By Justin Alford
Just last year, Tesla Motors, the California-based electric car company, left many with their jaws hanging open after CEO Elon Musk announced that it would release its patents to the world in a bid to boost the market for electric cars. And now, it seems like the world’s largest car manufacturer, Toyota, has taken a leaf out of Tesla’s book as it too intends to give away thousands of patents related to fuel-cell technology.
The announcement was made on Monday at the Consumer Electronics Show by senior vice-president Bob Carter. The bold move comes less than one month after Toyota began rolling out the world’s first mass-produced fuel-cell vehicle, the Mirai, in Japan.
During his speech, Carter proclaimed that Toyota would be allowing royalty-free use of some 5,680 patent licenses, including almost 300 related to high-pressure hydrogen tanks, and 70 related to hydrogen stations—the equivalent of gas stations for internal combustion vehicles. These licenses will be freely available throughout the duration of the market introduction period of fuel-cell vehicles, which the company anticipates will end around 2020. Just like Tesla, the idea is to give this area of the automotive industry a kickstart by encouraging other vehicle manufacturers into this new area.
“It’s obvious that there can be a higher societal value in openly sharing our IP,” said Carter. “By eliminating the traditional corporate business boundaries, we can speed the metabolism of everyone’s research and move into a future of mobility quicker, more effectively, and more economically.”
Carter’s announcement came shortly after an opening talk from theoretical physicist Dr. Michio Kaku, who believes that hydrogen fuel cell cars could bring about important changes to the world of politics and energy. “We are present at the creation of a hydrogen society, a non-polluting society that will perhaps one day vanquish global warming and the problems associated with the burning of hydrocarbon fuels,” he said.
We may be a long way off from such a world, but Toyota hopes that the Mirai is a good place to start. This fuel-cell sedan hit Japanese markets on December 15, 2015, and is due to go on sale in the US and some European countries later this year. Fuel-cell cars produce electricity through a chemical reaction between hydrogen gas and oxygen. Because they run on hydrogen rather than gasoline, they produce no harmful greenhouse gases and thus have the potential to reduce emissions from the transportation sector, which could help us make progress towards achieving future climate change goals.
The Mirai can travel around 400 miles (650 kilometers) on a tank of hydrogen gas, which is significantly further than electric cars. However, a problem that is currently hindering this sector is a lack of hydrogen stations, although it has just received $47 million from California to assist in the construction of 28 stations.