Sustainable mobility

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on November 16, 2017.

The Toyota Mirai Fuel Cell Vehicle.

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Despite being at the heart of a region built on the riches of oil production, at the 2017 Dubai International Motor Show, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) showcased the steps it is taking to become a leader in zero-emissions transportation and in cutting overall oil dependency.

When the 14th biennial automotive event opened its doors to the public on Tuesday while electric, hydrogen and hybrid vehicles took center stage alongside bespoke hypercars and oversized SUVs.

Thanks to a range of initiatives including the free use of public charging stations, free parking for zero-emissions cars and generous tax incentives, interest in and demand for alternative fuel vehicles is growing steadily in Dubai.

“It is testament to the diversity of the Middle East’s motoring culture and the visionary Dubai leadership that the leading manufacturers of electric and hybrid cars see great potential in a region that has been dominated for so long by the petrol engine,” said Trixie LohMirmand, senior vice-president, Exhibitions and Events Management, Dubai World Trade Centre of this year’s show.

Dubai has already laid impressive foundations for a public electric car charging infrastructure, but many in the UAE are backing hydrogen, rather than plug-in electric as its fuel of tomorrow. It already generates sufficient hydrogen in its oil refineries for potential domestic use but has ambitious plans to ramp up production for the international markets. For the same reason, it is looking to its other core industries, such as caustic soda production, to see if hydrogen can be developed or generated as a by-product, as well as to solar farms for providing carbon-free energy for creating the gas.

The region’s first hydrogen station, in Abu Dhabi, was recently completed, and since January the UAE has been working in partnership with Toyota with the aim of testing Mirai Fuel Cell cars on its roads.

Dubai wants to be able to boast the world’s lowest carbon footprint by 2050 and while moving to renewable energy such as solar power will go a long way to achieving this commendable target, the Emirate also needs to address current forms of personal mobility.

Hence incentivising electric car ownership in the short term and looking to hydrogen in the longer term. On the eve of this year’s Dubai show, The Hydrogen Council coalition, a group of 18 leaders across 18 key industries, addressed COP 23 in Bonn and presented its roadmap for a future with hydrogen power at its core. According to its research, conducted and compiled with McKinsey, widespread adoption of hydrogen power could cut carbon dioxide emissions by around six gigatonnes compared with current levels and represent 20% of the measures needed to limit global warming to a 2°C increase.

“The world in the 21st century must transition to widespread low carbon energy use,” said Takeshi Uchiyamada, chairman of Toyota Motor Corp and co-chair of the Hydrogen Council. “Hydrogen is an indispensable resource to achieve this transition because it can be used to store and transport wind, solar and other renewable electricity to power transportation and many other things.”

And while there is little doubt of the benefits hydrogen can bring — for instance when used to generate electricity as a fuel cell reaction in a car, the only waste gas is water vapour, there are still persistent doubts about how the hydrogen is generated, captured or separated.

Nevertheless, the Hydrogen Council forecasts that 10 million to 15 million hydrogen fuel cell (HFC) cars could be on the world’s roads by 2030 along with 500,000 HFC trucks. — AFP