Toyota Motor Corp. and its group companies are stepping up efforts to develop auto parts for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and expand their market amid a global shift to eco-friendly cars that do not emit carbon dioxide.
The largest automaker in Japan last month released its second-generation hydrogen-powered Mirai sedan, meaning "future" in Japanese, with a longer range than the previous model, which was the world's first mass-produced FCV.
The five-seater Mirai has three tanks to hold the hydrogen fuel that is used to generate power for its electric motor, giving it a range of up to 850 kilometers, roughly 30 percent more than the first-generation, four-seater sedan that can travel 650 km on its two tanks. Toyota launched the original Mirai in 2014.
FCVs are powered by electricity generated through a chemical reaction between hydrogen stored in the tanks and oxygen in the air.
Last week, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said in a speech in parliament that he wants electrified vehicles -- electric cars, hybrids, plug-in hybrids and fuel cell vehicles -- to make up 100 percent of Japan's new car sales by 2035.
The key factor for the new Mirai's longer range is the third tank, which was developed by Toyoda Gosei Co., a Toyota group company manufacturing rubber and resin parts for vehicles.
Toyoda Gosei utilized its cutting-edge technology to develop the new tank by covering the inside with a unique resin material that can resist high pressures of about 70 megapascal to efficiently contain hydrogen fuel.
The chemical company built a new plant to mass-produce the tank in Inabe in central Japan's Mie Prefecture, investing 12 billion yen ($115 million).
"We could not manufacture the new Mirai model without the tanks (produced at the plant)," Yoshikazu Tanaka, the Toyota chief engineer in charge of developing the FCV, said at a ceremony in the factory in early December.
"In the future, we would like to have our products used for other cars including commercial vehicles," Toyoda Gosei President Toru Koyama told reporters.
Aichi Steel Corp., a Toyota affiliate that makes steel products for auto parts, said it has developed a special stainless steel that can withstand high-pressure hydrogen as a material for Mirai components, such as hydrogen receptacles, without using costly rare metals.
Toyota Industries Corp., which currently makes auto parts and assembles Toyota's RAV4 sport utility vehicles, has launched a new air compressor to effectively deliver air including oxygen to the generator on the Mirai.
Denso Corp., a Toyota group company and one of the world's largest auto parts suppliers, manufactures high-quality silicon carbide power semiconductors for the Mirai FCV in a bid to reduce electricity consumption and improve vehicle fuel efficiency, the company said.