Hydrogen-powered cars set to become a driving force

Blue car driving along city street.

Tim Nicholson

Posted May 15, 2019

Car-makers are investing big in green-powered vehicles. Here’s why. 

It has taken a long time for zero-emission vehicles to get the type of attention in Australia that they’ve been receiving in other markets such as Western Europe and parts of the United States and Asia. But with a federal election looming, green vehicles are finally making headlines.

The focus so far has been squarely on the benefits and perceived pitfalls of battery electric vehicles, but a number of major global car-makers and industry observers believe there is also a big future for hydrogen-powered vehicles.

Several barriers stand in the way of a hydrogen revolution, including a lack of refuelling stations – there is currently just one in Australia, at Hyundai’s headquarters in Sydney.

Currently it requires a lot of energy to produce hydrogen and it can be costly. For these reasons, many car-makers are investing billions on battery electric vehicle technology instead of hydrogen, but there are a few major players who see a future for hydrogen. 

Hyundai Motor Company has already come to the party with its Nexo SUV. Despite the lack of hydrogen refuelling stations, Hyundai says it will be available for private sales in Australia by the end of this year. The ACT government has already purchased 20 Nexos as part of the Hornsdale Wind Farm Project.

The other major automotive player in the hydrogen space is Toyota. The Japanese car-maker is hedging its bets by investing heavily in both battery electric and hydrogen fuel-cell technology. It currently has one hydrogen car on sale in some markets – the Mirai sedan.

Toyota is so convinced of the benefits of hydrogen-powered vehicles that it recently announced it would convert its former Altona manufacturing facility in Melbourne’s west in to a $7.4 million Hydrogen Centre.

The site will be home to a commercial-grade hydrogen refuelling station and an educational centre with live demonstrations.

It will also house an electrolyser, which produces hydrogen through electrolysis in a more sustainable way, as well as solar and battery storage.

Toyota says that once it is up and running, the hydrogen refuelling station will be able to fill a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle in three to five minutes.

The Japanese giant has previously announced its target of zero CO2 emissions from sites and vehicles by 2050.

Toyota Australia president and CEO Matt Callachor said refuelling infrastructure was the main barrier to hydrogen take-up.

“Hydrogen has the potential to play a pivotal role in the future because it can be used to store and transport energy from wind, solar and other renewable sources to power many things, including vehicles like the Toyota Mirai Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV),” he says.

“Right now, the biggest factor to the success of hydrogen being widely available is the lack of infrastructure. The sooner we move to a zero-emissions society, the better, and Toyota is committed to making this a reality.”

Construction is set to begin this year and the education centre will be operational by December. The electrolyser and refuelling station will be ready by late 2020.

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has chipped in $3.1 million of funding to the site, with Toyota Australia investing the remaining $4.3 million.