Hy-power road show

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - News - CRAIG DUFF

THE fu­ture of mo­tor­ing is el­e­men­tal, ac­cord­ing to the com­pany that made hy­brid ve­hi­cles a main­stream propo­si­tion.

Toy­ota views hy­dro­gen­pow­ered cars as the end game in the elec­tri­fi­ca­tion of the car. The process started with hy­brid ve­hi­cles, grad­u­ated to plug-in hy­brids and evolved into pure elec­tric ve­hi­cles.

Hy­dro­gen is the next step, the com­pany says, be­cause the most abun­dant el­e­ment in the uni­verse has a greater en­ergy den­sity than the most mod­ern bat­ter­ies.

That means hy­dro­gen cars can travel far­ther than a pure elec­tric ve­hi­cle. Re­fu­elling times com­pa­ra­ble with petrol cars add to the ap­peal.

EV ad­her­ents, led by Tesla founder Elon Musk, dis­agree with the ef­fi­cien­cies of fuel-cell ve­hi­cles com­pared with pure on-board bat­tery stor­age. That’s largely be­cause of the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact and en­ergy needed to cre­ate hy­dro­gen in the first place and the en­ergy losses in the fuel cell.

Rolling out pub­lic recharg­ing sta­tions for EVs is also far less ex­pen­sive than the $1.5 mil­lion-$2 mil­lion needed for a com­mer­cial hy­dro­gen re­fu­elling pump. It is also a de­bate for an­other day …

At its most ba­sic,Toy­ota’s Mi­rai fuel-cell ve­hi­cle em­ploys the same prin­ci­ple as a Prius hy­brid by con­vert­ing fuel into elec­tric­ity to power a mo­tor.

Where the Prius uses petrol, the Mi­rai mixes hy­dro­gen and oxy­gen gained from the air.

The Mi­rai uses 5kg of hy­dro­gen gas un­der a hefty 700 bar of pres­sure in two stor­age tanks. The hy­dro­gen com­bines with oxy­gen in the fuel cell to cre­ate elec­tric­ity which is then fed into a nickel-metal hy­dride bat­tery — just like the Prius — to power the ve­hi­cle.

Toy­ota says the range is about 550km and re­fill­ing the tanks costs about $60. The only emis­sion is water.

The lack of re­fu­elling in­fra­struc­ture in Aus­tralia has led Toy­ota to fit a por­ta­ble hy­dro­gen com­pres­sor to a Hino-pow­ered semi-trailer (in­set) to pro­vide a mo­bile demon­stra­tion of hy­dro­gen ve­hi­cle tech­nol­ogy.

That hy­dro­gen is bought from com­mer­cial sup­pli­ers but Toy­ota Aus­tralia spokesman An­drew Wil­lis says there is huge po­ten­tial in gen­er­at­ing hy­dro­gen from biomass, in­clud­ing house­hold waste.

ON THE ROAD

The Mi­rai is re­mark­able for not be­ing re­mark­able. Be­yond the ab­sence of en­gine noise, it drives much like a Camry, right down to a 100km/h sprint time of about 9.6 sec­onds. The 355Nm of torque means only one gear is needed, though it does limit top speed to 170km/h.

The steer­ing is light and di­rect but you can feel the car’s roughly 1850kg mass when cor­ner­ing, even though it is pack­aged low in the car.

The Mi­rai has been built as a pre­mium car, so the two rear bucket seats are nearly as com­fort­able as those up­front and the car has a rel­a­tively fu­tur­is­tic look to re­in­force its po­si­tion in the mar­ket.

There are no short-term plans to sell the Mi­rai in Aus­tralia but Wil­lis says there is po­ten­tial for fleets to use the ve­hi­cle be­cause of the rel­a­tive ease of re­fu­elling the ve­hi­cles at a sin­gle lo­ca­tion.

“We’re show­ing what the tech­nol­ogy is about. There’s a lot of work to do in Aus­tralia be­fore hy­dro­gen cars are a reality but we need to get the con­ver­sa­tion started,” he says.

It’s also worth not­ing Mi­rai is Ja­panese for fu­ture. That’s a fairly solid state­ment of sup­port for the tech­nol­ogy.

The fact that man­u­fac­tur­ers from Hyundai to MercedesBenz are still work­ing on the tech­nol­ogy shows the de­bate on the mer­its of EV ver­sus hy­dro­gen is far from over.

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