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Friday, October 24, 2008

Fuel Cell (Hydrogen-Powered) Wheelchairs

by, Tokyo, Japan on 10.21.08

fuel cell hydrogen wheelchairs photo

With the Japanese population aging rapidly, the fuel-cell wheelchair and cart applications have a bright future. In fact, Japan already has the world's highest proportion of elderly people. More than 20% are over the age of 65 and this figure is expected to rise to about 40% by 2050. Considering this population trend, no doubt there will be an increasing demand for these wheelchairs and carts from Kurimoto Ltd. in the future. Promoted as "Eco" fuel-cell powered means turning the “silver market” into green. Of course they are for other treehugging wheelchair users as well!

Previously here on Treehugger, we talked about the world’s first hydrogen generation plant in Japan. Building the infrastructure for the eventual commercialization of hydrogen is part of the Japanese Government’s plan to “build a hydrogen economy to sustain our precious earth.” Under the motto Moving Our Future Forward the Japanese government engages in a number of related research and demonstration projects.

One such project is the Japan Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Demonstration Project (JHFC Project), initiated by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), aims to gather and share data in order to develop the roadmap for full-scale mass production and widespread use of FCVs. The JHFC Project involves a wide range of activities related to the use of fuel cell vehicles, which also includes consumer awareness campaigns.

We visited the latest consumer-focused campaign at the Roppongi Tsutaya store. This branch of the Tsutaya CD and video retail/ bookstore chain is set in the popular up-market Roppongi Hills neighborhood and attracts a very trend-aware Japanese and international audience. For one month part of the store was occupied by a Fuel Cell Car covered in colorful images to attract the attention of store visitors. Promotional banners and brochures informed about the JIFC Project and some workshops were aimed at children and teenagers, the future consumers who will hopefully grow into a world where hydrogen applications are more common-place.

Participating Fuel Cell Vehicles (FCV) included six cars, one bus and two types of hydrogen ICVs (internal combustion vehicles) developed by domestic and foreign automobile manufacturers, including Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Hino, Suzuki, Mazda, Daimler and GM. While fuel cell cars and busses have been much talked about, it is the small fuel cell powered vehicles that are the latest technological achievements.

We liked the fuel-cell wheelchairs, a fuel-cell electric cart and a fuel-cell electric assisted bicycle, developed by two Japanese companies that are not car manufacturers. Kurimoto Ltd. (Japanese manufacturer of industrial products) released its Fuel Cell Wheelchair IV in June 2006 and a Fuel Cell Cart II in May 2007 while Iwatani Corp. (Japanese gas and energy development and supply company) released the Fuel Cell Electric Assisted Bicycle in February 2008.

The wheelchair and the cart’s fuel-cell system is a 24V 250W PEFC Air Cooling External Humidifier. Both drive at a max. speed of 6km/h and their driving range is 10hours, 60km (H2 Storage 190g/4 canisters) and 5hours, 30km (H2 Storage 100g/2 canisters). Iwatani Corp., the manufacturer of the Fuel Cell Electric-Assisted Bicycle, has been working with hydrogen for about 50 years and holds the leading share (40%) of the hydrogen market in Japan.

Written by Alena Eckelmann at