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Toyota frees up fuel-cell patents

Toyota will give away thousands of patents for its fuel-cell cars in an effort to encourage its rivals to adopt the new technology.

It mirrors a similar move by Tesla, which in June removed patents on its electric vehicle technology to "accelerate the advent of sustainable transport".

Toyota says it will allow royalty-free use of about 5680 patent licences, including 1970 related to fuel-cell stacks and 3350 concerning fuel-cell system control technology.

The free patent licences will also include about 290 items related to high-pressure hydrogen tanks.

Hydrogen refuelling stations are scarce around the globe

The free licences will be allowed "through the initial market introduction period" of fuel cell vehicles (FCV), which the company expects to last until about 2020.

Toyota will open about 70 patent licences related to hydrogen stations - the equivalent of fuel bowsers, and a vital link for drivers - indefinitely for manufacturers and operators.

Toyota senior vice president Bob Carter hails the move as promoting more widespread use of fuel cell technology.

"The first generation hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, launched between 2015 and 2020, will be critical, requiring a concerted effort and unconventional collaboration between auto makers, government regulators, academia and energy providers.

"By eliminating traditional corporate boundaries, we can speed the development of new technologies and move into the future of mobility more quickly, effectively and economically." One of the main hurdles to the development of fuel-cell technology is lack of infrastructure. With electric cars, every home is a potential refuelling station. Hydrogen refuelling stations are scarce around the globe.

Fuel-cell cars are seen as the Holy Grail of green cars

In Australia, there is next to no hydrogen infrastructure, although Hyundai has installed the country's first refuelling point for passenger cars at its Sydney headquarters, and has imported its first hydrogen-powered car.

Toyota's announcement came after it rolled out the world's first mass market fuel-cell car - the four-door Mirai sedan - in Japan.

The maker aims to release the car - the name means "future" in Japanese - in the US and some European countries, including Britain, Germany and Denmark, later this year. It hopes to sell more than 3000 examples by the end of 2017 in the US and up to 100 annually in Europe.

Fuel-cell cars are seen as the Holy Grail of green cars as they are powered by a chemical reaction of hydrogen and oxygen, which produces nothing more harmful than water at the point of use. They also have greater range than electric vehicles.

The Mirai can travel about 650km without refuelling, three times further than an electric car, and Toyota says its tank can be filled in a few minutes, as with petrol-engined vehicles. Toyota has invested heavily in hydrogen fuelling infrastructure in California and the north-eastern US, including providing a multimillion-dollar loan to operate 19 hydrogen fuelling stations in California. Another project will develop and supply 12 hydrogen stations in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.