Understanding hydrogen vehicles

6 mins read

Understanding hydrogen vehicles
Understanding hydrogen vehicles

Mirai is currently available on a limited basis to certain Toyota Fleet customers.

How does hydrogen technology work and what can it offer fleets looking to reduce their carbon footprint?

The Federal Government has announced its commitment to growing the infrastructure for hydrogen vehicles(1) – signaling the important role hydrogen will play in a green future. So how does hydrogen technology work, and what can it offer businesses looking to reduce their carbon footprint and their fleet running costs?

What is hydrogen technology?

Hydrogen is the simplest and most abundant element in the universe, but probably its most well-known form is in H2O – water. Hydrogen is approximately 14 times lighter than air and has a high “energy density” which is almost 3 times that of diesel or gasoline. Hydrogen can be made from multiple sources, but when it’s generated using renewable energy it provides a clean and adaptable method of storing energy.

One method of generating hydrogen is electrolysis, where electricity is used to separate the Hydrogen and Oxygen atoms from water molecules.

The process of splitting hydrogen from oxygen requires electrical energy, but with Australia’s plentiful access to renewable solar and wind resources, we’re well positioned to produce clean hydrogen. In fact, this abundance of renewable resources gives Australia a great opportunity to lead the way with green hydrogen technology, creating new jobs and economic growth in the spirit of a low-emissions future(2).

How do hydrogen cars work?

A vehicle that’s “powered by hydrogen” emits only water. In the case of Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs), the hydrogen is used to generate electricity which drives a motor and propels the car. Yes, fuel cell cars are EVs, but they use hydrogen to store energy instead of large batteries. The most important element of a FCEV is the ‘fuel cell’ which is simply a device that makes electricity which powers the electric motor in the car.

Let’s break it down further: First, there’s the hydrogen, which is stored on board the vehicle’s in storage tanks as a gas. This hydrogen is fed into one side of the fuel cell and oxygen from the air is fed into the other side. Inside the fuel cell a chemical reaction takes place which creates electricity. This electricity is then used to drive the electric motor or charge the small on board battery which can also provide additional energy to the motor when required.

So FCEVs generate the electricity they need “on demand” using the hydrogen stored on board and the fuel cell, unlike battery electric vehicles (BEVs) that use batteries (which can be very heavy) to carry the energy they require. The best part is that the chemical process inside the fuel cell produces only electricity, water and a small amount of heat. When driving, there are no toxic exhaust emissions from the car at all, just water.

How are Fuel Cell Electric cars refuelled?

Refuelling an FCEV feels similar to refuelling a traditional petrol or diesel car. Unlike charging a battery electric car, hydrogen-powered vehicles are filled using a bowser at a refuelling station. This process usually takes between three and five minutes, which is very similar to a petrol car. This fast refuelling ability could provide owners with a practical transition away from internal combustion engines and into the zero emissions space. The main challenge though with this technology right now is a lack of hydrogen refuelling infrastructure.

The positive news is that new hydrogen initiatives released by the Federal Government could remove this barrier over the coming years, with substantial funding to help to make hydrogen fuel stations commonplace in Australia.

How can fleets benefit from Fuel Cell Electric vehicles?

For businesses looking to power their fleets for a greener future, there are a number of options which can be explored. Toyota’s electrification strategy is focused on 4 pillars – HEV (Hybrid Electric Vehicle), PHEV (Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle), BEV (Battery Electric Vehicle) and FCEV (Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle). Each of these powertrains will reduce emissions and can reduce costs based on the amount of fuel used.

Overseas markets have implemented incentives to increase ownership of low and zero emissions vehicles including discounts, tax rebates and convenience-based perks such as access to inner-city zones, access to bus lanes and special parking.

So, the future of zero emissions vehicles, including FCEVs, looks bright from a business perspective as well as an environmental one. Some key practical benefits are explored below.

Reduced upfront costs

When it comes to purchasing electric vehicles, some states and territories already have initiatives in place. These include interest-free loans, as well as stamp duty and registration fee exemptions. But Australia still lags behind when compared to the incentives offered abroad. In China, for example, hydrogen vehicles are exempt from the 10 percent purchase tax(3).

Considering Australia’s new focus on hydrogen, government subsidies to reduce the upfront purchase costs could potentially be developed in tandem with the technology.

Related reading: A guide for keeping track of tax expenses for business vehicles

Improved lifetime value

The Australian Federal Government has targeted local hydrogen generation as low as $2 per kilogram under their current plans(4).

As hydrogen technology and infrastructure matures, the lifetime costs of hydrogen vehicles will reduce. Already, EVs tend to have less maintenance costs than internal combustion cars due to the simpler mechanics of electric motors. In addition, the price of manufacturing hydrogen vehicles and replacement parts are likely to become more affordable, as economies of scale take effect(5).

In fact, a recent Deloitte and Ballard white paper predicted that the total cost of FCEV ownership will decline by 50% in the next 10 years(6).

Better energy density and range

Hydrogen excels when it comes to energy density: one kilo contains approximately 3 times the energy of one kilo of petrol(7).

Better energy density and range
Better energy density and range

Toyota’s own hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle, the Mirai, has a 650km range. Up 30% from the first generation released in 2014, it uses a small, lighter fuel cell that also makes more power than its predecessor. FCEVs also don’t require large, heavy batteries to facilitate longer ranges as found in BEVs since the energy is stored as hydrogen gas and the electricity used to drive the car is created as it’s required.

What hydrogen options are available to businesses?

Toyota is leading the way with the Mirai – one of only two Fuel Cell Electric vehicles in Australia. A 5-seater sedan, the second-generation Mirai takes only minutes to refuel, has more power than its first-gen counterpart and has the added advantage of being an almost silent drive.

In March 2021, Toyota Australia unveiled the Hydrogen Centre at its Altona site in Melbourne which is aimed at furthering the cause of this emerging technology through education and demonstration of the infrastructure requirements to support introduction of more vehicles to Australia.

What hydrogen options are available to businesses?
What hydrogen options are available to businesses?

Mirai is currently available on a limited basis to certain Toyota Fleet customers.

As refuelling infrastructure begins to grow, the Toyota Mirai should become more readily available in the coming years for fleets looking to get ahead of the pack. Stay tuned to Toyota for Business as we continue to cover the expanding potential for hydrogen technology in the years to come.


(1) https://www.industry.gov.au/data-and-publications/technology-investment-roadmap-first-low-emissions-technology-statement-2020
(2) https://treasury.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-09/115786_AUSTRALIAN_HYDROGEN_COUNCIL.pdf
(3) https://www.electrive.com/2020/04/23/chine-extends-ev-sales-tax-exemption-til-2022/
(4) https://arena.gov.au/blog/australias-pathway-to-2-per-kg-hydrogen/
(5), (6) https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/cn/Documents/finance/deloitte-cn-fueling-the-future-of-mobility-en-200101.pdf
(7) https://rmi.org/run-on-less-with-hydrogen-fuel-cells/#:~:text=By%20contrast%2C%20hydrogen%20has%20an,12%E2%80%9314%20kWh%20per%20kg

This information provided is of a general nature and for information only. Nothing in this article constitutes or should be considered to constitute legal, taxation or financial advice. Before making a decision about any of the products and services featured on this article, you should consult with your own independent legal, taxation and financial advisors, who can advise you about your personal circumstances.

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