Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell
A Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. Supplied.

Plans to transform a decommissioned Toyota car manufacturing plant in Victoria into a renewable hydrogen hub are one step closer  after the project developers won a grant funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

ARENA said on Tuesday that it would provide $3.1 million towards the Toyota Australia Hydrogen Centre – a $7.4 million project that will repurpose the Altona north factory as an end-to-end process for the hydrogen creation chain.

Toyota’s Hydrogen Centre will include solar PV and battery storage to cover the incremental energy requirements for the production of at least 60kg of renewable hydrogen a day through electrolysis, and utilisation for both mobile and stationary applications.

It will also host an education centre and Victoria’s first commercial-scale hydrogen vehicle refuelling station infrastructure on site to allow the refuelling of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

The ARENA grant also marks the latest small step towards realising Australia’s much talked about potential for a renewable hydrogen economy, including the ability to export the nation’s abundant solar and wind energy resources to other countries, particularly in Asia.

An ARENA report, prepared 2018 by consultants ACIL Allen highlighted that this was a long-term play, but with enormous potential, including $10 billion in exports over 20 years, and 16,000 new blue-collar jobs, mainly in regional areas.

And in January, federal Labor made renewable hydrogen the focus of a $1 billion dollar pre-election policy promise, including plans to establish a $10 million ARENA funding round for hydrogen refuelling infrastructure.

Toyota, whose Altona plant closed in late 2017 – little more than three years after a massive (particularly for the time) 500kW commercial solar system was installed on its roof – has been a big proponent of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, as an alternative to both ICE cars and electric vehicles.

Last year, three Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell cars became the first of their kind to be driven under real-world conditions in Australia, through a trial with Melbourne’s Hobson’s Bay City Council.

The Mirais were driven by council staff over a 12-week period, and refuelled at a mobile hydrogen refuelling station at Toyota’s Altona plant.

In comments on Tuesday, ARENA chief Darren Miller said Toyota’s Hydrogen Centre would demonstrate hydrogen as a viable fuel source for transport, as well as an energy storage medium.

“Toyota is helping to pave the way for more renewably powered vehicles in Australia, where the uptake of electric vehicles has been slower than other countries,” Miller said.

“Australia holds a competitive advantage to play a global role in the emerging hydrogen export market due to our existing expertise and infrastructure. We’re excited to see Toyota add their skills to the mix and be a major player in increasing the uptake of hydrogen applications in different sectors.”

Toyota Australia’s president and CEO Matt Callachor said the Hydrogen Centre was a step towards the auto giant meeting its target of zero emissions from sites and vehicles by 2050.

“This is a very exciting time for Toyota Australia. Today’s announcement with ARENA aligns with our global drive to promote sustainable mobility and to play a leading role in the transition to a decarbonised future,” Callachor said.

“Hydrogen has the potential to play a pivotal role in the future because it can be used to store and transport energy from wind, solar and other renewable sources to power many things, including vehicles like the Toyota Mirai Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle.

“Right now, the biggest factor to the success of hydrogen being widely available is a lack of infrastructure. The sooner we move to a zero emission society the better, and Toyota is committed to making this a reality.”

This article was first published on Renew Economy.

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