THE chief architect of Toyota’s first production fuel cell vehicle says he has a solution to Australia’s tainted brown coal reputation – turn the coal into fuel for hydrogen-powered cars.
Yoshikazu Tanaka, the chief engineer of Toyota's Mirai hydrogen fuel-cell car, told Wheels that he believed converting brown coal to hydrogen fuel would help drive adoption of the technology here.
“Unfortunately we [Toyota] are not an energy company,” Tanaka said on the eve of the official opening of the Tokyo motor show this week. “Producing hydrogen, we believe, is not our business.
“Australia would be an excellent vision for FCV [fuel-cell vehicles] because you have a lot of brown coal which could potentially become a source of hydrogen.”
Highly polluting brown coal is a simmering topic in Australia, with highly charged political wrangling between the Greens and state and federal governments over the future of coal-based electricity generation in NSW and Victoria.
According to Tanaka, Kawasaki Heavy Industries Japan has already started work on building a full-scale plant in Victoria that will one day convert coal-based resources into hydrogen.
In 2014, Toyota first mooted the idea of using the vast brown coal reserves under the Latrobe Valley in Victoria’s east as a potential cheap fuel source for the emerging fuel-cell technology -- which combines hydrogen gas with oxygen from the air to produce water and the power needed to drive an electric motor.
Toyota has since launched its Mirai fuel cell vehicle – the first production version of the technology in the world – but announced that it would not come to Australia because there is currently no way to refuel it.
Toyota’s chicken-and-egg approach to the technology is in contrast to rival Hyundai, which has flagged plans to introduce a fuel-cell powered vehicle potentially based on the Tucson SUV to the Australian market, and help kick-start the refuelling technology.
Toyota Australia executive director of sales and marketing Tony Cramb said the carmaker would need to “sort out” the nation’s refuelling infrastructure before it could bring the Mirai here.
“All manufacturers are trying to get to a situation where they have emissions from the vehicle that are virtually zero,” he said.
“So it’s not a short-term political issue, it’s a longer-term infrastructure development and it requires not just government … there’s got to be private enterprise as well. We may have to get involved, other car manufacturers may have to get involved just to bring this kind of future to a reality.”