Dubai has electric cars but it may take a while to see hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles on Dubai roads. Al Futtaim Motors took the initiative of recently opening the first refueling station for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCV) in Dubai, close to Toyota’s Al Badia showroom in Dubai Festival City. The company worked closely with the French company Air Liquide to open the station as part of its long term plans to launch Toyota’s hydrogen-powered Mirai model in the UAE.
Three Mirai vehicles have been tested in the UAE as part of Al-Futtaim’s bid to get government organizations to consider the use of FCVs. It is still unclear as to how soon they are likely to become available commercially in the UAE.
Hydrogen powered models like the Mirai are quite similar to models powered by petrol in that they need only three to five minutes for refueling unlike battery powered EVs. The 2016 Mirai can go as far as 502 kilometres when it has a full tank of hydrogen, or enough to go from Dubai to Abu Dhabi and back twice over. In order to make the use of such vehicles viable on a commercial basis, there needs to be an extensive network of refueling stations across the country
According to Saud Abbasi, managing director of Toyota at Al Futtaim Motors, it is similar to the chicken and egg scenario as the vehicles cannot be sold in large numbers unless there is a network of refueling stations and there would be more refueling stations only if there are more vehicles on the road. There should be at least 10-12 stations across the country for full coverage and for motorists to have confidence that they would be able to refuel when needed.
Charging stations are expensive to set up and maintain. According to a project manager for Air Liquide, a hydrogen fuelling station costs around USD 2 million to build while a conventional petrol station would cost about USD 300,000 for a conventional US petrol station (based on figures from Minnesota-based Jux law firm).
The UAE is promoting the use of eco-friendly vehicles, but as of now, the emphasis is on the use of electric cars like those from Tesla. Dubai is offering several incentives like exception from Salik, exception from registration fees, free parking and free public charging for those who use electric cars. Currently, such incentives are not available for those who own hydrogen FCVs, though this might change in the future.
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