This story was first published in November 2019, but it has now been updated with current information on hydrogen fuelling potential in the Australian market.
The car that emits only water vapour from its tailpipe – the Hyundai Nexo hydrogen-powered vehicle – is officially ready for Australian roads.
The electric car that runs on hydrogen has been formally certified by the Australian government, cleared for use on local roads, and scored top marks in the latest crash safety tests.
The Hyundai Nexo will be on sale from next year but initially will only be available on lease to governments or fleets that have access to a hydrogen refilling station.
The Australian Capital Territory is poised to take delivery of the first of 20 Hyundai Nexo “fuel cell” cars early next year once the installation of its hydrogen refuelling station is complete.
The Queensland Government will add five Hyundai Nexo cars once its hydrogen station in Brisbane is operational by the middle of 2020.
Toyota in partnership with the Victorian Government will open a hydrogen refueller in Melbourne by the end of 2020.
Hyundai says hydrogen stations in South Australia, West Australia and Tasmania are due to follow but are yet to be announced.
For now there are no hydrogen refuellers locked in for the nation's biggest population centre, although there are preliminary discussions about an installation in western Sydney.
To date, the only hydrogen refuelling point in Australia is behind Hyundai’s Sydney head office for its use only. Toyota Australia has a hydrogen refueller on the back of a truck so it can test its small fleet of fuel cell cars in remote areas.
“The future is now,” said Scott Nargar, Hyundai’s senior manager for future mobility and government relations. “We really need infrastructure on the forecourts of service stations, we need infrastructure in shopping centres, we need infrastructure in the home.”
The Hyundai executive said “the transition is starting to happen, it’s just a matter of catching up with what’s happening in Europe and North America”.
“Our vehicles are on the roads here now,” said Mr Nargar. “Our fuel cell vehicle is certified and we’re ready to start selling it, leasing it, we’re just waiting for the infrastructure to catch up.”
He said it was time for governments to “consider the technology that’s coming in from ourselves and some of our competitors. We need to work together”.
Hydrogen-powered cars have the advantage of being refuelled in about five minutes, a similar amount of time to refuelling a petrol car.
The hydrogen powers what is best described as a built-in power station – or fuel cell – that creates electricity that, in turn, charges an onboard battery pack which runs the vehicle’s electric motor.
The advantage is that it doesn’t take as long as an electric car to refuel from empty. The downside is that hydrogen refuelling stations are scarce and the fuel is more volatile to transport.
To hedge its bets, Hyundai says it has all four options covered: petrol-electric hybrid, plug-in hybrid, pure electric, and hydrogen power.
“No matter what the automotive landscape may look like in the future we are confident we will have a solution that will suit our customers’ needs,” said Mr Nargar.
HOW IT WORKS
Hydrogen-powered "fuel cell" cars effectively have an onboard power station that generates its own electricity to charge an onboard battery pack which, in turn, powers an electric motor which drives the wheels.
The vehicle's hydrogen tank can be refilled in about the same time as it takes to refuel a petrol car. This means drivers don't need to change their behaviour and can avoid the long recharging times of pure electric cars.
The hydrogen is processed by a "fuel cell" which creates the electricity required to charge the onboard battery pack, and/or power the electric motor which drives the wheels.
For now there is only one permanent hydrogen refuelling station in Australia (located at Hyundai's Sydney head office), but outlets are being built in Canberra and Melbourne, and a commercial hydrogen refueller is planned for the greater Sydney metro area in the next 12 months to two years. Other states are due to follow.