Work is proceeding smoothly with the construction of the first public hydrogen station in Belgium, which is scheduled to open by mid-year. Located on land belonging to Toyota Motor Europe in Zaventem, the opening of the station coincides with the launch of the fuel cell powered Toyota Mirai at this year’s Brussels Motor Show.
Back in 2013, discussions were held within Toyota as to which countries in Europe should be given the privilege of launching the Toyota Mirai, the world’s first mass-produced fuel cell sedan. The presence of Toyota Motor Europe and a vast number of European institutions in Brussels swayed the decision towards Belgium, as one of the launch markets in addition to the UK, Germany and Denmark.
Of course, a car needs fuel, and the lack of a hydrogen station in Belgium was obviously a major obstacle. Coincidentally, Air Liquide, a world leader in industrial gases, was committed to build a hydrogen station in Belgium as part of its involvement in the SWARM project (Demonstration of Small 4-Wheel fuel cell passenger vehicle Applications in Regional and Municipal transport). Representatives of the two companies met, realised they shared a number of key objectives, and started up negotiations to construct a hydrogen station on the perimeter of the Toyota Motor Europe campus in Zaventem.
Right from the start, both Toyota and Air Liquide communicated openly with all stakeholders involved. For example, a public meeting was held to which all companies and inhabitants in the immediate vicinity of the new hydrogen station were invited. Hydrogen technology was explained and safety issues were addressed. Representatives from Toyota, Air Liquide, the local municipality and the emergency services were on hand to answer any questions arising.
Any concerns were obviously thoroughly addressed, because when the plans were officially unveiled, no objections were raised. Having obtained all the necessary building and environmental permits by July 2015, the first spade ceremoniously broke the ground in October (see our previous blog post on this topic).
Unmanned, with 24/7 remote support
The design of the station is closely modelled on the existing Air Liquide hydrogen station in Rotterdam. It will have a storage capacity of 200 kg of hydrogen gas. There will be a hydrogen dispenser at 700 bar for cars and one at 350 bar for buses. The station will be able to refill between 30 and 40 cars, with each refill taking less than five minutes.
Open 24/7, it will have a visual and audio link to the nearby Air Liquide office in Evere. From here, telephone assistance can be immediately provided should a vehicle driver request it.
The hydrogen will be tanked to Zaventem by road from Air Liquide’s plant in Antwerp. It is “green hydrogen” in that it is produced as a by-product of the manufacture of chlorine from salt. (“Brown hydrogen” is produced from natural gas in a process which unavoidably emits CO2).
Currently a monthly visit by tanker is pencilled in. As the number of fuel cell cars on the road increases, so will the frequency of tanking. Eventually a cut-off point will be reached when it becomes more efficient to produce hydrogen on-site.
Part of a European network
The station will be freely accessible to the public. It will also be clearly visible, thanks to its prime location along the busy N2 which connects Brussels with Leuven. Currently the two nearest hydrogen stations are in Rotterdam (150 km away) and Helmond (160 km) in the Netherlands.
Its status as the only public hydrogen station in Belgium will be short-lived. The Flemish government has made a commitment to encourage the construction of 20 hydrogen stations in Flanders by 2020. The first of these is due to open in Antwerp later in the year. As the Wallonia region also plans to open five stations by 2020, Belgium will have an excellent network of hydrogen stations. It will connect to the existing – and rapidly growing – network of hydrogen stations across Europe. This hydrogen infrastructure will support sales not only of the Toyota Mirai, but also of the fuel cell cars being developed and launched by other manufacturers.
Vive la révolution
The message is clear. Hydrogen is a perfectly safe, economically attractive and environmentally friendly fuel. Fuel cell vehicles are now coming onto the market. The necessary infrastructure is being built.
In short, the Hydrogen Revolution is moving forwards, and Toyota is proud to be at the forefront.