Scientists warn of environmental impact of hydrogen cars that Toyota is promoting at the Olympics

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“Faced with the social and environmental challenges of our time […] Paris 2024 is taking its responsibilities by proposing a different model of Games, more sober and just as spectacular, and is mobilizing all energies in this dynamic”boasts the organization of the event. However, mobilizing all energies also constitutes the strategy of the Toyota group, global partner of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, but not exactly known for its environmental actions.

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The Japanese group will thus supply a total of 2,650 vehicles for the Paris 2024 Games, including 100% electric models (BEV), hybrids (HEV), plug-in hybrids (PHEV), but also hydrogen cars (FCEV). It is the latter that are under fire from critics in a open letter signed by 120 academics, scientists and engineers, addressed to the organizers.

While only one hydrogen car was sold for almost 1,000 100% electric cars in France in 2023this energy is at the heart of Toyota's communication, which is promoting its large Mirai fuel cell sedan. As a reminder, the Japanese group is known for its lobbying against electric carsToyota certainly offers some 100% electric models, but is more popular with its hybrid cars, which nevertheless play a complementary role in the energy transition.

Cars much less efficient than pure electrics

Let's get back to our Mirai, of which 500 will be put into service during the Paris Olympics and will then join the existing fleet of Parisian hydrogen taxis. The signatories of this open letter remind us that “fuel cell vehicles running on green hydrogen [le type d’hydrogène utilisé lors des JO, produit à partir d’énergie renouvelable, NDLR] require three times more renewable electricity than equivalent battery electric vehicles. Therefore, they require three times more renewable electricity generation infrastructure, such as wind turbines and solar panels”.

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The much lower efficiency of fuel cell cars is often pointed out compared to that of 100% electric cars. With current hydrogen production processes, fuel cell vehicles are therefore significantly more polluting.

The signatories also argue that fuel cell cars are not a viable solution, citing for example the case of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, where hydrogen was to be used to power cars, buses and even the Olympic village. “The reality of the 2020 Games was that high costs and a lack of hydrogen supply meant that only a few hydrogen buses were operated for short distances. It is believed that the hydrogen used for these buses was undiluted ‘grey’ hydrogen, making well-to-wheel emissions worse than if they were simply running on diesel.”the signatories explain.

For David Cebon, professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Cambridge (United Kingdom) and one of the signatories of this letter, “Toyota has been promoting hydrogen for a long time, but the company is only trying to delay the transition to electric vehicles”.

“The signatories call on Toyota to replace its Olympic vehicles with electric models or, failing that, not to promote them.”the academic told AFP. In response, Toyota defended its hydrogen cars, arguing that they play a “key role among the different decarbonization technologies”. A vision “shared by the European Commission”the manufacturer said. The group also recalled that its 100% electrified Olympic fleet would cause 50% fewer emissions than during previous Olympic Games.

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