Big Lap of the future – is hydrogen set to be the new fuel of the bush?

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Mirai hydrogen car
Hydrogen fueled vehicles are perfect for long distance driving

For many years diesel has been considered the fuel of the bush, but – according to Japanese car maker, Toyota – that could be all about to change.

The global auto giant is currently touting the huge potential of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, particularly in countries such as Australia where the driving distances can be huge. Toyota Australia product planning corporate manager, Michael Elias, says the Outback could be a perfect fit with the emerging technology.

“Because of the energy density of hydrogen, you can actually package a lot of range in a small space,” he said. “It can deliver high-torque because of the electric motors, which is another aspect of off-roading and rural use, and so there is a huge opportunity.”

It is still early days though, and there would have to be an awful lot of re-fuelling infrastructure built before hydrogen is sending grey nomads up and down our highways. But every motor vehicle revolution has to begin somewhere, and Toyota has kicked this one off by importing three of its Mirai fuel-cell vehicles into Australia for a local trial until 2019.

Given that there is currently only one hydrogen vehicle filling station in the country, Toyota has got around the refuelling challenges by bringing with it a high-tech re-fuelling truck that follows the cars showing how it all works. Apparently, hydrogen refuelling is pretty simple and is very similar to filling up with petrol.

The Toyota Mirai takes around five minutes to fill up its 5kg tank, which is reportedly good for some 550 kilometres. Toyota reckons it costs around $60 to fill up. As well as rapid refuelling, zero CO2 emissions is the big selling point for hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles (FCEVs), which emit only water.

While things may be off to a slow start in Australia, Toyota has sold around 1500 Mirai cars in the year since its release in America and reckons 30,000 of them will be on the road by 2020.

In the USA the Toyota Mirai costs $57,000. Performance wise, motoring experts are enthusiastic, noting that the Mirai operates almost identically to any other new car and can quickly get up to 100km/h on the highway.

A hydrogen vehicle uses a fuel-cell stack to generate its own electricity on board, on demand, rather than storing it as an electric car does. Toyota is aiming to target hydrogen for applications in heavy vehicles that need to drive long distances between refills.

Toyota Australia’s fuel-cell project sponsor, Bernie O’Connor, says the company’s hydrogen strategy is long-term but he hopes the arrival of its high-tech hydrogen refuelling truck and its Mirai fleet will ‘fast-track’ the infrastructure needed to sell the cars profitably in Australia.

Watch this space.

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