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By Carsales Staff
The potential for hydrogen-powered electric vehicles to become a viable option in Australia has been boosted by a groundbreaking deal between rival car makers and two of the country’s leading energy suppliers.
The local arms of Toyota and Hyundai have signed a memorandum of understanding with Ampol and Pacific Energy in Australia to jointly develop a network of hydrogen refuelling stations across the country.
While the announcement did not provide a timeline, and there are no financial commitments, the parties have agreed to work together to accelerate the availability of hydrogen as an alternative fuel source.
At present, there are only a handful of hydrogen refuelling stations in Australia – including one at each of Toyota’s and Hyundai’s head offices in Melbourne and Sydney respectively, and single stations in Brisbane, Canberra and Geelong, the latter of which, at Viva Energy, is the only station available to the public and exclusively for heavy vehicles.
And, there are only two hydrogen fuel cell passenger vehicles currently in production, the Hyundai NEXO SUV and Toyota Mirai sedan.
About 50 examples of both Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEV) are currently being subjected to fleet trials in Australia, where they’re so far available only to business and government customers via a lease program.
However, Hyundai says the NEXO will be offered to the public on a subscription basis and Toyota plans to sell its second-generation Mirai to private buyers from around 2025.
Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Hyundai and Toyota are at the forefront of FCEV technology. The latter is developing hydrogen-powered light trucks with Isuzu, has revealed a hydrogen-fuelled HiLux concept in the UK and said it is studying battery-electric, plug-in hybrid and FCEV versions of its LandCruiser.
Hyundai has also promised a wider range of fuel-cell vehicles will be available within the next few years and has made a massive investment in the development of hydrogen-powered heavy vehicles and trucks.
Meantime, INEOS is planning to eventually produce an FCEV version of its new Grenadier off-roader and the Australian-developed, Ford Ranger-based H2X Warrego FCEV ute is already available to fleets.
The agreement between Hyundai, Toyota, Ampol and Pacific Energy aims to establish a network that will ensure these vehicles have the necessary infrastructure to operate properly and become available to Australian customers.
“Since 2018, Toyota has been expanding our hydrogen capability here in Australia, first with local trials of our Mirai FCEV sedan and then with the establishment of Victoria’s first hydrogen production, storage and refuelling facility,” said Toyota Australia president and CEO, Matthew Callachor.
“This month, we announced plans to locally assemble and distribute the EODev GEH2 fuel cell generator in Australia and this joint collaboration announced today provides further opportunities to explore and grow this vital technology.”
Hyundai Australia CEO Ted Lee added: “In 2021, Hyundai deployed 23 NEXO Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles into Canberra as a partner in the ACT Government’s hydrogen station project – the first hydrogen refueller of its kind in Australia.
“Our consortium partners have a great track record of deploying energy and refuelling infrastructure, along with hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Hyundai looks forward to working with our experienced partner companies and the broader government and business community in the ACT to help the transition to a cleaner and greener transport future.”
For their part, energy companies Ampol and Pacific claim they will support the rollout of hydrogen-fuelled vehicles.
“Hydrogen can play an important role in delivering decarbonisation benefits for transport and developing the right infrastructure to support a successful rollout is key,” said Ampol managing director and CEO, Matthew Halliday.
“The MoU establishes a collaborative working relationship between the parties, who are all required to develop the necessary hydrogen ecosystem to make hydrogen use as a transport fuel feasible.”
Pacific Energy CEO Jamie Cullen said: “Our purpose at Pacific Energy is to transition the world to a clean energy future. To be successful, we know we must collectively lean into bold opportunities that help accelerate our journey towards net zero, and we know hydrogen and zero emissions vehicles play an important role in this approach.”
Toyota Australia vice-president sales, marketing and franchise operations Sean Hanley added: “This partnership agreement brings together four like-minded companies that are all leading proponents of Australia’s growing hydrogen economy.
“Both Toyota and Hyundai have fuel-cell electric vehicles in customer programs while Ampol and Pacific Energy are heavily invested in growing sustainable energy development and distribution.
“This is a vital development because hydrogen ecosystems must involve sectors uniting so they can bring together their skills, technologies and applications.
“It’s an agreement that demonstrates a commitment to work together on further opportunities to explore and grow this vital technology… which will play a role in the transition to more renewable energy sources [for vehicles]. “This is yet another important chapter in our multi-pathway approach to decarbonisation.”
Chicken and egg
Speaking to journalists at the announcement, Hanley said hydrogen-powered cars are ideally suited to Australia with long-range driving capabilities and quick re-fuelling times once the network has been established.
“The cars are here. We just need to get an infrastructure to support them. But… in fairness to energy companies, they need a commitment to vehicles coming to this country to sustain their investment.
“At Toyota, we believe hydrogen has a role to play, particularly in heavy vehicles.
“When you look at what we use vehicles for in Australia… hydrogen is an outstandingly good fuel source and a solution for a carbon-neutral commercial vehicle that has to tow, has to have range and doesn’t take a long time to fill.
“Hydrogen works in that regard so once we can establish an infrastructure it’s got an incredibly good future.”
Hanley reaffirmed Toyota’s commitment for public sales of the Mirai within the next few years.
“We haven’t determined that [exactly when] yet… but as soon as we have an expansion of the infrastructure that can support an expansion of Mirai sales we’ll be doing it,” he said.
“We said around 2025 would be an ambitious horizon and depending on infrastructure whether we can realise that or not, but hopefully this announcement will help accelerate that.
“We’ve always said that to build a hydrogen infrastructure you need to bring government, energy, car companies all together, so this is a really positive step towards that and there’s a long way to go.
“The cars are fine, we just need the infrastructure to support them.”
The senior Toyota executive said FCEVs would be no different to other powertrain technologies when it came to assuring the public of their safety.
“The hydrogen fuel cell is a safe car. Our job is, like any technology we bring to market, to dispel the myths and one of those myths will be around the safety of hydrogen,” he said.
He also reiterated that Toyota would continue to offer a broad selection of powertrain options for Australians, including new models with internal combustion engines, hybrids and battery electric vehicles.
“I think ICE engines will be around for a long time,” he said. “I don’t see oil and petrol ending any time soon.
“These things [FCEVs] take five minutes to fill and they have a good range. If you had the refuelling infrastructure, it’s really no different to what people do today.
“The only barrier for hydrogen right now is how you make it and that will rely on fossil fuels for a period of time until we get more renewable energy into the grid, and secondly the infrastructure.
“There’s no barrier with the car. It drives like any other car and I’m sure the Hyundai car drives like any other car and is a great car too. The only thing stopping both of them is somewhere to fill it.”
Asked what price the Mirai would be sold at, Hanley said: “They are just EVs with a fuel-cell. They’re not cheap but over time as you get infrastructure, scale and volume…
“It’s a bit like the hybrid story. They weren’t cheap back in 2011 and today they have price parity within between about $2500 and $4000 of an ICE engine.”
Speaking to British magazine Autocar at last month’s Japan Mobility Show in Tokyo, Toyota’s chief technology officer Hiroki Nakajima said the Mirai had “not been successful” because widespread hydrogen refuelling stations have been “difficult to realise”.
There are reportedly only 57 hydrogen refuelling locations in the US – all of them in California – and Toyota has sold about 2600 Mirais in the US so far this year, which is an 80 per cent on the same period in 2022 and more than the entire first-generation model.
Disclaimer: Images supplied by Toyota Australia.
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