Toyota has imported three Mirai hydrogen fuel-cell sedans to demonstrate the technology to Australian officialdom and motorists over the next few years.
The Mirai – which means future in Japanese – is already sold in Japan, the US and parts of Europe (Britain, Germany, Denmark and Belgium), but it will not be available in Australia until refueling infrastructure is built.
In the meantime, Toyota Australia’s engineers and partner suppliers have built a mobile refueller consisting of a generator and compressor in a purpose-built trailer hitched to a Hino prime mover truck. The trailer can also transport one of the Mirai sedans.
A senior executive adviser to the Toyota Australia board, Bernie O’Connor, says it is Australia’s first local high-pressure refueller that can completely fill a fuel-cell vehicle, and will enable the technology to be shown off in all states.
“Our local vision is that, as a first step, governments and businesses running back-to-base fleets will be able to arrange appropriate refuelling,” O’Connor said. “In parallel, we see great merit in the introduction of strategically placed refuellers in our larger cities.”
Toyota has pledged to work with government, industry and other stakeholders to fast track the development of refuelling infrastructure needed to support wider use of fuel cell vehicles.
This will involve Toyota working with one of its great rivals, Korea’s Hyundai, which also has a fuel cell vehicle in Australia and a refuelling station at its headquarters in Sydney.
Hyundai imported a hydrogen-powered car into Australia in 2015, an ix35 fuel cell vehicle. It will supply 20 next-generation fuel cell cars in 2018 to the ACT Government, as a part of a renewable transport fuels test berth in Canberra.
The ACT project will see the developers of the Hornsdale wind farm project, Neoen and Megawatt Capital, invest $55 million in partnership with Siemens and Hyundai to establish a 1.25MW hydrogen electrolyser, which converts electricity to hydrogen. The government argues that hydrogen energy storage from 100% renewable energy is an important complementary technology to its plans for solar energy storage.
One selling point for Toyota’s Mirai is a driving range of about 550 kilometres after filling the two onboard hydrogen tanks at a cost of about $A60, lessening the “range anxiety” which worries some drivers when it comes to electric vehicles.
Hydrogen is delivered to the portable refueller in bottles, cooled to about minus 20 degrees celsius and pressurised to around 70 megapascals (700 bar). In the car, the hydrogen is fed into a fuel cell stack where it is combined with oxygen from air-intakes, creating a chemical reaction that produces electricity.
The Mirai’s on-board tanks are filled with about 5 kilograms of hydrogen, a process that takes from three to five minutes at a commercial refuelling station. The only emission is water vapour.
Toyota says the cost of every mid-size hydrogen refueling station is between $A1.2 to $A2.3 million, which is why it is looking to build support for the technology. It’s also why Toyota is looking for the first commercial users of fuel cell vehicles to fleet users, which have vehicles that return to base after being driven.
In contrast, Japan is expected to have at least 160 hydrogen refuelling stations by 2020, with California having more than 100 by the same time. Japan also offers a rebate of about $A23,000 for buying a Mirai and a buyer in California can get a $US5,000 rebate from the state plus a federal $US8,000 tax credit, while Australia has yet to offer worthwhile incentives for EVs and fuel cell vehicles.
In the past, Australian governments were reluctant to offer incentives for buying cleaner cars which would be competing against locally-made vehicles that tended to be large cars like the Holden Commodore and the Ford Falcon, whose makers received taxpayer support for local production (and job creation).
However, Ford ceased local car making last month, while Holden and Toyota will end local production by the end of next year, which removes at least one impediment (or excuse) to government incentives to encourage the purchase of clean vehicles.
While some energy and car industry types argue that electric vehicles are the way of the future, and fuel cells something of a cul-de-sac, the Mirai is a perfectly acceptable car to take for a drive. It has a low centre of gravity, with the hydrogen tanks sitting under the floor, which helps with the handling and avoids any hint of the “golf buggy” feel of old-style EVs.
Toyota says the Mirai has a top speed of 180kmh and the car accelerates well, producing about the same torque as a V6 engine. But it will be a while before many fuel cell vehicles hit the streets in Australia, and they probably won’t attract petrol-heads.