Since May 2016, Hydrogenics is the proud owner of a Toyota Mirai. Denis Thomas, European Affairs Manager and Business Development Manager at Hydrogenics, talks about this first unique experience. As a pioneering company in hydrogen technologies, there was probably no better place to test the limits of this revolutionary vehicle combining technology and environmental friendliness.
Text: Delphine Abdelmoula – Image: Steven Richardson
What exactly does Hydrogenics do?
Denis Thomas: “To put it simply, we manufacture hydrogen from electricity. We also build hydrogen filling stations for industry and heavy mobility (truck, bus …). And we manufacture fuel cells that can be found in hydrogen vehicles.
Today, it must be known that most of the hydrogen used is produced from fossil fuels and is therefore not environmentally friendly. Making vehicles or technologies out of hydrogen is a good thing. But the production of this hydrogen must also be clean otherwise it would have no more interest. At Hydrogenics, our mission is precisely to develop this hydrogen from renewable electricity (for example: wind turbines), without any CO 2 emissions . “
What can hydrogen technology be used for?
Denis Thomas: “Hydrogen is everywhere, even in margarine! But also in the manufacture of fertilizers, and of course in the production of fuel. Hydrogen is very present in our industry, but not necessarily visible to the general public. There is also a whole series of new applications that are developing, such as the injection of hydrogen into natural gas, for example. Tomorrow, there may be hydrogen in the natural gas we use every day, without us even knowing it. “
In May 2016, Hydrogenics became the proud owner of the first hydrogen-powered Toyota in Belgium. A year and a half later, what are your impressions? If it was again, would you leave for a ride?
Denis Thomas: “Without a doubt! We are completely satisfied with the Toyota Mirai. Here we give the opportunity to all employees to try it. We have already traveled 35,000 km. Of course, it is also a great tool for us to promote hydrogen. For us, it's a car that today is ready to conquer our roads. “
Does the Toyota Mirai behave differently than a conventional vehicle? What differentiates it from you?
Denis Thomas: “Overall, driving a car with hydrogen, diesel or gasoline makes no difference. Even at the level of autonomy, you can travel all over Belgium without having to recharge it. The only difference is in comfort. Aboard the Toyota Mirai, you will enjoy the pleasure of a quiet ride, with particularly fast and smooth acceleration. So many advantages that you can never fully find in a 'traditional' vehicle. “
And at the recharge level, how is it going?
Denis Thomas: “Almost exactly, it's identical to a classic filling. You arrive at the station, you choose your pump, you take the gun, you fix it at the end of the car and the filling is done in three minutes. You do not even have to stay close since the gun is attached to the car and the filling stops automatically as soon as the fuel is full and done. “
In your opinion, why did Toyota choose to invest in the development of hydrogen vehicles?
Denis Thomas: “The first element is clearly the zero emission. Global warming is on the front pages of the media, and the transport sector is responsible for 30-40%. There is therefore a real need to clean up the transport. And in pollution, there are two elements: fuel with CO 2 emissions and the use of the vehicle itself with city pollution, smog, etc. Electric vehicles are the only ones that can solve this problem.
Toyota has always been one of the first manufacturers to move in this direction, especially with hybrid technology. It has become a bit of a reference at this level in the automotive sector.
I think that Toyota has opted for hydrogen for two main reasons: the first is simply the customer. The Toyota Mirai does not require any change of habit and does not require more time for charging. Then there is the question of autonomy. The Toyota Mirai can already travel 450 km easily. And I am convinced that they will arrive very quickly to a similar autonomy to a classic vehicle.
Of course, the environment has yet to evolve to allow hydrogen vehicles to develop on the market. But it's underway and it will make the experience even more accessible to everyone. “
What are the advantages of the Toyota Mirai for you? Why would you recommend the use of such a vehicle?
Denis Thomas: “Of all the employees who have tested it, there is not one who does not come back and say 'it's great!' In addition to the ecological aspect of course, driving comfort, this silence, this fluidity, make it particularly pleasant to drive. Really, I recommend it to 200%. “
How does the general public perceive hydrogen technology in your opinion? Are there any fears and, if so, are these justified?
Denis Thomas: “There is indeed a cruel lack of information and education for this type of technology. When we talk about a hydrogen car, it can be scary sometimes because we associate hydrogen with less glorious uses such as the hydrogen bomb for example. Amalgam is quickly done. But once people test the vehicle for themselves, they get a better understanding of how it works and all their fears disappear. “
In the press, we read that Flanders planned to open 20 hydrogen stations by 2020. As a specialist in this market, can you tell us if this objective is still relevant and what is it for Brussels and Wallonia?
Denis Thomas: “The goal is indeed still relevant. This represents a great step forward because it shows the degree of ambition of the government compared to clean technology. It is also a way for the government to give the green light and encourage builders to develop in this direction. For the moment, there is still only one public hydrogen station, but a second will see the light of day by the end of the year at Colruyt in Halle. I think that in the next year or two, we will already be able to see 5 or 6 hydrogen stations in the country.
Wallonia has a smaller target of 5 stations by 2020. A financing project has also been approved which will allow the opening of several stations in the Benelux. For Brussels, it is a little more complicated. As the city's desire is to limit or even eliminate cars, it has not yet shown its willingness to develop an infrastructure for hydrogen vehicles. The environment nevertheless seems quite conducive, it suffices to see cities like Antwerp, where areas of low emissions appear where only 'clean' vehicles can enter. “
Do you think the hydrogen vehicle represents the future?
Denis Thomas: “Yes. In fact, eventually hydrogen vehicles and electric vehicles will share the market. And we can choose according to our needs. For example, for smaller trips, we can choose an electric vehicle. If you want to move more, the hydrogen car will fit perfectly. Hydrogen technology will be ideal for heavier transport as well as commercial vehicles, parcel deliveries, etc. A need that the electric vehicle does not know how to answer at the moment.
Today in Brussels there is a real dispute over the future of transport. Europe wants to achieve almost zero emissions by 2050. But if we continue to sell polluting vehicles in 2040, there is a good chance that they are still in circulation 10 years later! We are currently in what I would call the first phase of deployment with the development of infrastructure (stations …).
Then, from 2020, will come the second wave with the creation of a competitive offer of hydrogen vehicle of all types. To finally arrive in 2030, where will be sold only electric and hydrogen vehicles. “
The name Mirai, meaning “future” in Japanese, seems particularly well chosen for this model resolutely turned towards the future.
Source: Toyota France