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Toyota opens lines for hydrogen power

Free your mind: Toyota Motor Sales USA senior vice president of automotive operations Bob Carter at this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, alongside the hydrogen fuel-cell Mirai.

Patents for Toyota's hydrogen fuel-cell technology offered royalty free

Toyota logo6 Jan 2015

By TIM NICHOLSON

TOYOTA has opened more than 5600 fuel cell technology patents to free use by its rivals as part of its push to lift hydrogen fuel into the mainstream.

In return, the Japanese giant would like reciprocal free access to hydrogen fuel cell technologies held by the other manufacturers under a sharing arrangement.

Confirming the move at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada, the Japanese car-maker's United States senior vice president of automotive operations Bob Carter said the company would allow the use of the globally held patents, some of which were developed for its recently revealed Mirai fuel-cell vehicle.

About 3350 patents relate to fuel-cell system software control, 1970 are connected to the fuel-cell stacks, while a further 290 are connected with the high-pressure tanks and 70 relate to production and supply of hydrogen.

Toyota said in a statement that access to the patents would be open to car-makers that produced fuel-cell vehicles, as well as fuel-cell parts-makers and energy companies that plan to build hydrogen fuel-cell refill stations, and companies developing technology for hydrogen-powered buses and industrial equipment.

Any company wishing to adapt the fuel-cell technology for use outside of the automotive sector will be evaluated on a case by case basis, according to Toyota.

The patents relating to the fuel-cell vehicles will be available royalty free until the end of 2020, while hydrogen production and supply patents are open for an unlimited time.

Toyota says it will “request, but will not require” other companies to share their fuel-cell patents with Toyota, royalty free, under the licensing agreement.

Speaking at CES this week, Mr Carter said the company's decision to open up its patents would help spur the development and adoption of fuel-cell tech in more countries around the world.

“At Toyota, we believe that when good ideas are shared, great things can happen,” he said. “The first-generation hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, launched between 2015 and 2020, will be critical, requiring a concerted effort and unconventional collaboration between auto-makers, government regulators, academia and energy providers.

“By eliminating traditional corporate boundaries, we can speed the development of new technologies and move into the future of mobility more quickly, effectively and economically.” Toyota has already invested in hydrogen refueling infrastructure in the US, with the announcement in May last year of a $US7.3 million loan to FirstElement Fuels to build and maintain 19 stations across California.

The Japanese car-maker is also working with Air Liquide in developing a network of 12 hydrogen refuelling stations across a number of north-eastern states including New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut.

Toyota has shared some of its intellectual property in the past through collaborations – a move it says paved the way for the widespread adoption of hybrid technology – but this is the first time the car-maker has made its patents available free of charge.

American electric vehicle-maker Tesla announced in mid-2014 that it had made all of its patents available for free, with the company's co-founder Elon Musk saying that the move was “in the spirit of the open source movement” – a reference to the shared software community.

Volvo's safety reputation began in the 1950s when the Swedish car-maker invented the patent-free three-point seatbelt that was adopted by auto-makers across the globe.

Toyota's first mass-produced fuel-cell vehicle, the Camry-sized Mirai, made its debut in production guise in November last year, using a fuel-cell stack that produces 114kW of power with a volume power density of 3.1kW/litre and emitting nothing but water vapour from the exhaust.

Toyota Motor Corporation Australia product public relations manager Steve Coughlan told GoAuto at the time that the Mirai was an unlikely starter for the local market.

“If sufficient local demand for hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles develops in the future, this is something we can certainly explore further,” he said.

“However, in this instance Australia also needs to have the relevant infrastructure in place before these vehicles can be sold commercially.” Korean car-maker Hyundai announced in December that it had imported a hydrogen fuel-cell powered ix35 SUV to Australia for comprehensive testing as well as establishing the country's only refuelling station at its Sydney headquarters.

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