Fuel cells find a home among the gum trees
Toyota Australia has officially launched its Mirai hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and refuelling infrastructure in Australia.
The Mirai has commenced a three-year tour of Australia to expose the hydrogen fuel cell technology and its inherent advantages as a zero-emissions vehicle. It is the first mass-production right-hand drive fuel cell vehicle to be driven on Australian roads.
A 700bar Linde refuelling rig has been built to be transported with the Mirai to events and product display events across the country, which Toyota says it plans to introduce in rural communities as well as metro areas. Refilling in 3-5 minutes with five kilos of hydrogen stored in two tanks, the Mirai is capable of 550km of driving range. A full refill of hydrogen costs about $60AUD based on European pricing structures.
“We have these cars until 2019 to showcase to consumers, governments and stakeholders that this technology is here, how it works and the benefits,” said Andrew Willis, manager of government affairs, trade and environmental policy at Toyota Australia.
“The key benefit with hydrogen fuel cell technology is it doesn’t change the ownership paradigm. Fuel cell vehicles offer the same convenience of internal combustion cars. You don’t need to wait around to charge a battery,” he added.
Traditionally, the case against hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (HFCV) has been the lack of refuelling infrastructure and corresponding demand for vehicles to warrant such investments, especially in Australia. The second key factor inhibiting hydrogen fuel cells to date has been the production, storage and resulting energy use/environmental impact to produce the readily-available fuel source, despite being the most abundant element.
The chicken-and-egg launch of Toyota’s hydrogen refuelling rig and the Mirai is the first time a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle has been driving on public roads, and the car itself, nicknamed the ‘Puffer fish’, drives like a Nissan LEAF or a Corolla Hybrid. Appropriate, the latter, as the Mirai uses electric motors identical to the Corolla Hybrid. It even produces similar wispy noises as you set off and decelerate.
Michael Elias, corporate manager product planning, said the hydrogen fuel cell powertrain is a long-term goal of the Japanese carmaker.
“We feel this technology delivers the most ideal means of future mobility. It leverages our hybrid technology, and it demonstrates with very few moving parts, using a plentiful fuel with the right kind of emissions,” he said.
“In Australia we have more than one million homes with solar panels, which shows potential for producing clean hydrogen from the electrolysis process. Hydrogen has seven times the energy density of battery storage, making it much easier to store the gas because it takes up less space. You can even use sewerage to create hydrogen.”
Hydrogen is measured in kg/100km and the Mirai’s able to produce 113kW from the electric motor and 335Nm of torque. The Mirai is capable of doing 180km/h, with wheels 2kg lighter than conventional alloys, a single gear transmission, and five-star safety crash rating. The design of the drivetrain allows the Mirai to supply its own 60kWh of electricity with a 240-volt AC inverter built in to boot of the car.
The fuel cell stack is developed in-house by Toyota located under the front seat, low in the vehicle. Air flows into the front of the vehicle, through the air filter and into the stack. The two tanks of hydrogen supply hydrogen on-tap to the stack where they combine to produce electricity, which drives the front wheels, and water vapour which dribbles out the back. However, should you wish to not excrete puddles of fluid on driveways or in garages, an H2o button allows you to store and deposit water at will.
The refuelling rig chills hydrogen down to -20 degress Celcius and compresses the hydrogen to 700bar – the first of its kind in Australia. There are two outlet valves used to refuel, the second at 350bar which can refuel forklifts and buses – HFCVs available in Japan but not Australia (yet).
Infrared sensors connect with the vehicle, checks pressure, any leakages and acts as a failsafe. Commercial hydrogen outlets cost around $1-2million depending on function, whether generating hydrogen on-site through electrolysis or supplied. A diesel generator will act purely as a back-up support when three-phase power is not available. Toyota’s Altona base has a large solar energy system which allows for emission-free hydrogen production.
“We have no immediate plans to start selling the Mirai just yet,” Mr Willis said, “because we have a lot of work to do in this space. We need a whole-of-industry approach to move forward – we need governments, fuel companies, other automotive brands and so forth – before we can commercialise it in Australia. The best way to start the process is with short-medium term goals.”
Toyota’s hydrogen planning spokespeople admit they’re looking for players in the market to show interest and work hand-in-hand, and have already set up meetings and demonstrations to governments and industry brands. Fleet operators, Toyota says, are going to be the most significant points of early interest.
“We’ve got some fleet customers coming in to demonstrate the program, the technology and have those conversations with,” Willis said.
“What we’re looking for at this early stage is a back-to-base model where the likes of a large fleet company can set up their own infrastructure, vehicles can go out and be used throughout the day, and return to base to refuel at the end of the day,” Willis proposed. “That’s a logical place to start, from that additional infrastructure could be strategically rolled out in major cities. That way we can aggressively rollout the technology where both demand and supply are met equally. That’s our idea at this stage.”
Toyota Australia is appealing to industry, government and fleet stakeholders to collaborate in bringing hydrogen fuel cell technology to fruition in the consumer market.