On Earth Day, which was yesterday if you weren’t paying attention, Toyota launched a new ad campaign to hype up the newest addition to their line of cars and trucks, the hydrogen-powered Mirai. The project heralds the first major attempt by a major car company to get the general public revved up about hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. In the months leading up to the car’s release, Toyota has planned a series of short documentary videos designed to educate us all on the potential wonders of hydrogen fuel.
Narrated by engineer Scott Blanchet and directed by Oscar winner Morgan Spurlock, the first video in the series is simply called, “Fueled by Bullsh*t.” The title is in direct response to critics who dismiss hydrogen tech as a big pile of … well, you know. Although anyone who’s graduated high school has probably been told at least once (whether they were paying attention or not) that hydrogen is the most abundant element on the planet, the short explains just how plentiful hydrogen is — there’s a reason hydrogen is No. 1 on the periodic table — while also giving a short overview of the refining process.
Seriously, it’d be easier to get a list of stuff hydrogen is not in. So, with that in mind, Blanchet and a willing dairy farmer set off to illustrate just how common hydrogen is and just how easy it is to extract.
The first stop is a dairy farm (fair warning, there’s definitely footage of a cow dropping a deuce). From there it’s transplanted to the Digester, which in the video is lovingly referred to as a “poo lagoon.” The digester uses a two-part chemical reaction to break down the cow plop and emit raw biogas. The biogas is then moved to a methane reformer, which strips the hydrogen from the biogas so it can power the vehicle. That’s about all the science this video has on offer, but Toyota has promised that it will build out it’s “Fueled by Everything” website in the coming months with more concrete facts and expert insight.
The project certainly has an uphill battle ahead of it. While hydrogen-related news is definitely becoming more and more common, it’s still got a long way to go before capturing the American public. A lot of that has to do with the fact that California and Ohio are currently the only states with hydrogen fuel stations. That’s a relatively easy fix, though, as building a hydrogen refinery would take up about as much space as a normal gas station. Outside of that necessity, hydrogen has been battling against a bad reputation since the 1930s.
There are lots of people who discard hydrogen as a possible fuel source because they claim it’s too combustible. When they think of hydrogen fuel, they think of this. However, most people don’t know that hydrogen actually had little to nothing to do with the Hindenburg crash (the outer casing was basically a tinderbox coated in rocket fuel). Hydrogen is actually pretty safe, because when it burns, it produces very little heat and dissipates into the atmosphere much faster than ordinary gasoline.
Then, there’s the cost. In years past, hydrogen has been decried because it costs so much to extract from its source and turn into viable fuel. Thanks to recent advances in technology, however, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are more economical than ever before. On top of that, hydrogen fuel costs about a dollar a gallon, even after the expensive extraction process. Refined oil, on the other hand, goes for about $2.30.
Those are just the safety and fiscal concerns. There’s also another aspect of hydrogen on which there is zero debate. The energy is renewable, and it’s 100 percent harmless for the environment. The only byproduct of a hydrogen fuel cell is water (okay, and water vapor). That may not be a huge deciding factor for some, but it definitely never hurts.
It’s tempting to write this off as just an expensive commercial for Toyota’s new hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, the Mirai, but the project is the first step in a sea change that could have serious implications for American society. As Spurlock put it, “This project gave us the opportunity to dive into a world that most people don’t understand but has the potential to change our world … I think this short film is pretty compelling evidence of what could be possible in the years ahead.”
Hydrogen is on the rise and at this point it looks like it just may give fossil fuels a run for their money. As an energy source, it’s cheaper, safer and sustainable. Toyota may have just joined a cultural revolution.