Toyota Motor Sales on Monday delivered its first two market-ready hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles to the University of California, Irvine (UCI) and the University of California, Davis (UCD) at a press conference on the UCI campus.

The official delivery is the first step in a plan to establish California fuel-cell "community" partnerships of government, business and higher education that will tackle product, infrastructure and consumer-acceptance challenges.

The two vehicles delivered are the first of a total of six "Toyota FCHV" fuel-cell vehicles that will be leased to the two UC campuses. The four additional vehicles will arrive later next year. Each vehicle will be leased for a total of 30 months.

Both universities are at the forefront of fuel-cell vehicle research, development and implementation. Toyota's fuel-cell development programme began in 1992 and, for the last five years, it has provided more than $US2 million in research grants to the University of California for research in advanced transportation systems including fuel cell vehicles. That research grant will more than double over the next 3-1/2 years and the UCD Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS) and the UCI National Fuel Cell Research Center (NFCRC) will now have a fleet of fuel-cell vehicles with which to address the three key challenges that must be met before zero-emission fuel-cell vehicles can be brought to market in volume.

"On the product side, there will be numerous hydrogen-specific issues such as further improvements and refinements in durability and driveability, vehicle maintenance, and fuel tank capacity that must be addressed," said TMS executive vice president and COO Jim Press.

"On the consumer side, we must raise awareness of the importance of zero-emission vehicles, confirm to the public the highest level of safety and vehicle integrity, and gauge customer acceptance for such things as limited driving range. Finally, there are the operational and logistical issues, including the establishment of a practical hydrogen-refuelling infrastructure."

Toyota's plan to establish fully functional, fuel-cell-friendly model-communities in northern (UCD) and southern (UCI) California depends on developing and expanding hydrogen-refuelling infrastructure. Working with the state's California Air Resources Board (CARB) and South Coast Air Quality Management Board (SCAQMD), as well as corporations such as Stuart Energy and Air Products, the model communities in the north and the south will have a network of six refuelling stations up-and-running within the first six months, including a new station at TMS national headquarters in Torrance, 40 miles northwest of the UCI campus. With a current maximum range of approximately 180 miles, the southern fleet of Toyota FCHVs will have a driving range capable of covering most of Los Angeles and Orange counties.

The Toyota FCHV represents advancement on the FCHV-4 hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle, which underwent 18 months of real-world testing in California and Japan, logging more than 80,000 miles of evaluation on test tracks and public highways. The vehicle has gone through rigorous crash testing during its pre-market evaluation. During that time the hydrogen fuel system has proven to be reliable, durable and user-friendly.

The Toyota FCHV-4 and FCHV are based on the US market Highlander five-passenger mid-size sport utility vehicle (SUV). Its fuel-cell stack was developed and built by Toyota.

The FCHV system features four 5,000-psi hydrogen fuel tanks.

Hydrogen gas feeds into the fuel-cell stack where it is combined with oxygen. The chemical reaction of combining hydrogen and oxygen to form water generates a peak of 90 kW of electricity. The electricity from the fuel-cell is used to power the 109-hp (194 lbs-ft of torque) electric motor and to charge the vehicle's nickel-metal hydride batteries which also feed power-on-demand to the electric motor. Water vapour is emitted through the vehicle's tailpipe.

By applying the hybrid technologies honed in the Prius petrol-electric hybrid vehicle, the FCHV fuel-cell-electric system precisely regulates power flow from the fuel-cell stack and battery to achieve high efficiency, excellent acceleration and a smooth quiet ride. The FCHV has a top speed of 96 mph. It has a lighter body shell than the Highlander, thanks to the use of aluminium in the roof, wings and other components. At 0.326 Cd, the FCHV is one of the world's most aerodynamic SUVs, thanks to its flat, well-sealed underbody. The FCHV been certified by CARB as a zero-emissions vehicle and its environment-friendly air conditioning system uses CO2 rather than CFC as a coolant.