The Middle East's first refuelling station for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) opened in Dubai on Wednesday, despite the fact that it will be several years before such vehicles are made available to UAE customers.
Al Futtaim Motors opened the new station in Toyota's Al Badia showroom in Dubai Festival City in collaboration with French hydrogen station firm Air Liquide. The launch comes as Al Futtaim looks to expand the rollout of Toyota's hydrogen-powered Mirai car.
Three of the hydrogen-powered cars have been tested in the country, in a bid to enable government entities to obtain a short-term lease of the vehicle to gain a better understanding of hydrogen FCVs. But while Al Futtaim hopes to expand the number of Mirai cars on the road, the company has no specific targets for the number of models it wants to see on the road, and admits they are unlikely to become commercially available anytime soon.
“We’ve got several years minimum before we actually put a [hydrogen] FCV on sale [in the UAE],” said Matthew Clark, general manager of sales at Al Futtaim.
Hydrogen-powered FCVs are similar in many respects to conventional petrol-fuelled cars, only taking three to five minutes to fully refuel. Toyota's 2016 Mirai model has a range of 502 kilometres on a full tank of hydrogen, or enough to twice drive from Abu Dhabi to Dubai and back.
But an increased number of refuelling stations need to be deployed nationwide if FCVs are to be commercially viable in the UAE.
Saud Abbasi, managing director of Toyota at Al Futtaim Motors, said that it was a chicken and egg scenario. “For vehicles to be out on the road in critical mass, you need the fuelling station network to be up,” he said.
Mr Clark estimates that the UAE would require a network of 10-12 stations for full national coverage.
Such a charging network will not come cheap; A project manager for Air Liquide noted that hydrogen fuelling stations in the US cost around $2 million to build (the same price as in the UAE). This compares to around $300,000 for a conventional US petrol station, according to figures from Minnesota-based Jux law firm..
While the UAE is picking up its pace for eco-friendly alternatives to petrol cars, the drive at the moment appears to be more for electric vehicles (EVs), such as Tesla. Dubai kicked off four new initiatives last month to help increase the number of EVs ranging from primary parking in high traffic areas, toll-fee exemption, registration discounts and free public charging. Such offers would not apply to hydrogen FCVs.