Tokyo: Toyota Motor (7203.T) plans to use regenerative fuel cell technology to power a manned lunar rover, executives said on Friday, raising the prospect of eventually using the moon’s water ice as an energy source. Under Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Japan has stepped up its space ambitions. It is participating in NASA’s Artemis program and aims to have an astronaut stationed at a lunar space station called Gateway in the latter half of the 2020s.
Toyota, which has already developed prototypes of heavy-duty fuel cell delivery trucks and big rigs, will supply the rover’s hydrogen fuel cells that convert the invisible, odorless gas into electricity. The rover will also carry solar panels to harness sunlight and provide energy during the 14-day-long dark and freezing lunar nights.
The company expects to secure an order for the rover by next year, with the vehicle slated to operate for ten years. Toyota, the world’s largest carmaker, is banking on the project to help establish hydrogen as a viable alternative energy source for homes, cars, and other vehicles. It envisions a “hydrogen society” where homes, businesses, trains, and ships run on the power of electrolyzing water in fuel cells.
Toyota also plans to promote its hydrogen fuel cell technology with an exclusive Olympic mobility sponsorship deal. It will affix “Powered by Toyota” branding on the Foton bus fleet to be used for the Olympics, sources at the Tokyo municipal transport operator and the carmaker said. They added that Foton has already signed a deal to lease a large number of Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell cars for its services.
Toyota’s president, Akio Toyoda, has sought to counter criticism from green investors and activists that it is slow to support battery electric vehicles (EVs). The company says it supports the shift to hybrid and fuel-cell cars while noting that there are various ways to cut carbon emissions. He has urged the government to offer tax breaks for hybrids and fuel cells in addition to those for batteries. He has cited the example of China, which offered tax breaks for hybrids to speed up adoption. The country has since seen strong EV sales growth.