WHILE the focus on alternative fuels over the past few months has been largely centred on electric vehicles, the fuel that many believe will be the real future of automotive movement, hydrogen has been given a major boost this week with automotive giant Toyota announcing it will build a the world’s first megawatt-scale hydrogen power station at the Port of Long Beach in Southern California.

The facilitywill also feature a fueling station generating hydrogen from 100 percent renewable sources.

The automaker will use the hydrogen for the prototype fuel cell heavy-duty truck it is running out of the port and to eventually fuel Mirai passenger sedans imported from Japan.

“This is the next step in Toyota’s efforts to build a clean and sustainable future powered by hydrogen,” said Doug Murtha, Toyota’s group vice president for strategic planning. ”Hydrogen fuel cell technology” has the potential to be the powertrain of the future.”

Murtha made the announcement Thursday at the 2017 L.A. Auto Show, just a stone’s throw away from the Project Portal Class 8 truck that Toyota is testing  as a proof of concept for hydrogen-fueled trucking at the Port of Long Beach.

“It has the power to haul 73,000 tonnes of freight while emitting nothing more than water vapor,” Murtha said, adding that the truck has so far logged more than 6,000 “successful development” km. The truck just recently began moving goods — auto parts and supplies for Toyota — throughout Southern California.

Murtha highlighted another benefit of hydrogen fuel cell technology: acceleration. Carrying 16 tonnes of gross weight, the truck takes 8.9 seconds to travel the initial 200metres from start up. A diesel truck would take 14.6 seconds to reach the same distance.

That truck will soon be fueled with the hydrogen from the new plant. The source material will be bio-waste sourced from California farms. At present, most hydrogen fuel is made with natural gas.

The new so-called Tri-Gen power plant will generate 2.35 megawatts of electricity and 1.2tonnes of hydrogen per day, which is enough to power 2,350 average-sized homes, Toyota says, as well as fuel to support the daily driving of 1,500 fuel cell cars.

The facility is Toyota’s first in North America to be 100 per cent renewably powered.

“It’s a great day when the application of fuel cell technology is broadened to a variety of platforms aligning stations with those vehicles,” said Steve Ellis, manager, fuel cell vehicles at American Honda Motor Co.

Following Toyota’s announcement, the Honda Clarity hydrogen fuel cell sedan was named 2018 Green Car of the Year at the auto show.

“These things are not competitive. Rather, all ships rise at this early stage of fuel cell vehicle and hydrogen station development,” Ellis said.

Toyota is one of a handful of automakers making hydrogen fuel cell passenger vehicles. Two years ago, it introduced its Mirai hydrogen fuel cell sedan. The same fuel cells that power the Mirai also power the Toyota Project Portal hydrogen truck.

Honda, Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz also make hydrogen-fuel vehicles, but adoption has been slow, mostly because of infrastructure. There are currently just 31 hydrogen fueling stations in California, which has the highest concentration of hydrogen fueling stations of any state in the country.

“What makes hydrogen such an exciting prospect in cleaning our environment and reducing our carbon emissions is its flexibility,” said Morry Markowitz, president of the Fuel Cell Hydrogen and Energy Associaton .

“You can use it for transportation. You can use hydrogen to power buildings and even help power and stabilize the grid. It’s also being used in other countries to help stabilize the cell system as backup power.”

Toyota’s new Tri-Gen facility, Markowitz added, “actually fulfills the completion of a promise of the fuel cell technology and hydrogen as a fuel. It shows that it can power anything on four wheels from a forklift to a heavy-duty truck as was promised, but also to derive the fuel potentially from renewables.”