The Middle East region's first hydrogen refilling station was unveiled at the Dubai Festival City on Wednesday. Image Credit: Arshad Ali

Dubai: The Middle East region's first hydrogen refilling station was unveiled on Wednesday at the Dubai Festival City, in a move hoped to eventually usher in the UAE's transformation into a "hydrogen society".

Al Futtaim Motors, the country's Toyota dealership, inaugurated its hydrogen station in its Al Badia showroom in partnership with France's Air Liquide.

The initiative is in line with the UAE Vision 2021, aimed to raise the country's contribution to the world's clean energy drive and reduce dependence on fossil fuel, said officials.

Saud Abbasi, Managing Director of Toyota at Al Futtaim Motors, said the move to introduce hydrogen-powered cars in the UAE is the next step in their sustainable mobility journey.

Toyota first introduced green vehicles in the UAE in the form of Hybrid cars in the UAE nine years ago.

In 2016, the Toyota Mirai (Japanese for “the future”) underwent rigorous technical tests under UAE 's road conditions and a small demo hydrogen station was set up at Al Futtaim’s Al Badia location.

Hydrogen-powered cars run on hydrogen — the universe's most abundant element. They generate no carbon emissions and emit only heat and water.

Toyota Mirai is not yet commercially available in the UAE.

The move is an initial step, said officials, and is aimed to demonstrate the viability of fuel cell vehicles (FCVs), drum up interest in hydrogen fuel — which solves both the quick refueling issues as well as range anxiety posed by battery electric vehicles, they explained.

Construction of the hydrogen fuel station started in May. Research will also be undertaken at the UAE's Masdar Institute of Science and Technology on hydrogen production and the feasibility of creating a hydrogen-based society.

Quick refill

During the Wednesday forum, Al Futtaim also demonstrated one of the perks of having this green vehicle —the quick tank-refilling of the Mirai which took between three to five minutes.

In January this year, Abu Dhabi’s top energy companies announced their collaboration with the Japanese carmaker to promote the use of hydrogen-powered cars in the Emirates. 

In 2016, the Toyota Mirai — which emits only water — underwent technical testing in the UAE.

Hydrogen vehicles and clean air

A hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle produces power when the gas reacts with oxygen, generating electricity.

The vehicle fuels up much like a conventional car rather than being plugged in.

The 2016 Mirai model has a range of 502 kilometres on a full tank of hydrogen.

Based on available data, road transport accounted for 22 per cent of the UAE’s CO2 and other greenhouse gases emissions in 2013.

In 2016, the UAE ratified the Paris Agreement, where 195 countries committed to reducing global warming to 2°C below pre-industrial levels

The agreement also calls on signatories to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emission in the next five years.

The biggest critic of hydrogen FCVs is tech entrepreneur and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who questioned the efficiency and economic viability of hydrogen as a fuel even as he touted the improved performance of lithium ion batteries in recent years.