Sasol and Toyota have showcased a South African first proof-of-concept hydrogen mobility ecosystem at the opening of the Smarter Mobility Africa (SMA) Summit in Midrand this week.

A second-generation Toyota Mirai fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) was fuelled by hydrogen produced at Sasol’s Sasolburg operations, using dispensing technology provided by Air Products.

The three companies formed a partnership in 2021 to promote the use of hydrogen as a fuel of the future, according to a media statement.

What is a hydrogen vehicle?

A hydrogen-powered vehicle is a type of electric vehicle which differs from a battery electric vehicle (BEV) at the source of power.

A BEV needs to be charged at a charging station for electricity to be stored in its batteries; this could take hours depending on the speed of the charger (AC or DC). A hydrogen FCEV, however, can be filled at a fuel station that is equipped with a hydrogen pump, but takes a few minutes, as demonstrated at the SMA Summit.

Fleetwood Grobler, CEO and president of Sasol, said: “We are confident that green hydrogen is key to decarbonising various hard-to-abate sectors, as well as the transport sector.

Hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe, has the potential to be a game-changer in the quest for sustainable transportation. At our Sasolburg operations, we have successfully commissioned a three-megawatt (MW) solar farm that powers existing electrolysers.

“We have already achieved daily production of approximately 150km of green hydrogen during the plant’s commissioning phase in our Sasolburg facility.”

He adds that it will be bolstered by a further 69MW from the Msenge Emoyeni wind farm in the Eastern Cape.

“We expect this to come online in 2024 and will enable our Sasolburg electrolysers to produce up to 5 500 tons of green hydrogen a day.”

When will we see them on the road?

Andrew Kirby, CEO and president of Toyota SA, says the company has been actively involved in the research and development of using hydrogen as a source of motive power for more than 30 year since 1992.

“Toyota has sold more than 25 000 fuel cell electric vehicles since then. In fact, a prototype FCEV was used in a static display at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, which was held in Johannesburg,” says Kirby.

Toyota has brought in two of its second-generation Mirai sedans to demonstrate the hydrogen ecosystem.

Kirby tells City Press that it currently has no intention to roll out sales of the Mirai.

“It’s more to demonstrate the technology. If, and when, infrastructure and business partners can make it a viable proposition, then we will roll out the vehicles.”

In addition to its commercial viability, Kirby says there is interest in product development. “We are also looking at how we can convert trucks and busses to fuel cell technology and bring in bespoke fuel cell vehicles; there’s a range of vehicles that we are investigating.”

Touching on the Hilux BEV and FCEV, Kirby says Toyota has plans to bring it to SA, but it will most likely gain traction with businesses who want to reduce their carbon footprint and are able to install hydrogen charging infrastructure or EV charging stations.

We want to get to the commercial vehicle environment because we need scale to make this model work but will support early adopters and private customers enthusiastically.

There was an important development in this regard recently when Toyota UK unveiled and demonstrated a Hilux bakkie fitted with a specially adapted Mirai fuel cell powertrain, says Kirby.

“The prototype was assembled by Toyota UK in England, but there was significant input from Toyota SA Motors too. In fact, the basic vehicles were built in Prospecton in KwaZulu-Natal and then sent to England for fitment of the hydrogen fuel cell powertrain.”

While Kirby could not divulge how much Toyota has invested in its hydrogen project locally, he believes South Africa is well suited for the hydrogen economy, which will solve two challenges.

“We have an environment to easily and cost effectively produce green hydrogen, and we desperately need a more efficient solution – from a cost point of view and an environmental one – for long haul trucks and buses.”

Toyota is not the only manufacturer dabbling in the hydrogen space in South Africa. BMW showcased its iX5 hydrogen car at the Festival of Motoring in August and plans to bring a small fleet to South Africa early in 2024 for further testing.

Originally published here: