Discussion about developments in alternative vehicle technology have been dominated by the decision of an increasing number of automotive manufacturers to produce electric vehicles which are, in turn, powered by plugging the vehicle into the grid. While this technology is increasingly gaining favour in many international markets, many industry commentators believe that ‘plug-in’ electric vehicles will merely provide a ‘stepping stone’ to the ultimate market adoption of hydrogen powered vehicles.

A hydrogen powered vehicle is an electric vehicle where the electrical energy used to power the vehicle is provided via the onboard storage of liquid hydrogen, rather than batteries. The hydrogen is converted into electrical energy in a fuel cell via an electrochemical process, with the only waste product being water.

“The economic and environmental benefits of using hydrogen as an automotive fuel represent the holy grail in terms of clean transport, but the challenge has always been how best to harness this technology in an economically sustainable manner”, said ACAPMA CEO Mark McKenzie

But the past decade has seen an ever-increasing investment in hydrogen demonstration projects around the world. This investment has delivered progressive technological breakthroughs that are making hydrogen more economically attractive as every year passes and the number of hydrogen demonstration projects are increasing rapidly.

In terms of energy conversion, a hydrogen powered Hyundai Nexo can travel 100kms on 1 kilogram (kg) of hydrogen. This compares with around 7.5 litres of diesel (or 9.3L of petrol) in an equivalently sized Hyundai Santa Fe travelling the same distance.

In recognition of these global movements, the Coalition of Australian Governments (COAG) commissioned a Task Force to examine the opportunities for Australia to take advantage of the emerging Hydrogen economy – including the use of Hydrogen in the Australian domestic market for both power generation and transport.

The Task Force undertook an investigation of current market developments and spoke with a wide range of industry stakeholders (including ACAPMA) about the near-term opportunities for use of Hydrogen as a power source within the Australian economy.

Late last month, the work of the Task Force was published in a report entitled: Australia’s National Hydrogen Strategy (November 2019). A copy of this report can be downloaded at: https://www.industry.gov.au/sites/default/files/2019-11/australias-national-hydrogen-strategy.pdf

In summarising the finding of the report, the Chair of the Task Force Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel AO, noted that: “the COAG Energy Council Hydrogen Working Group has found that Australian companies and investors are ready to apply their ingenuity and considerable experience to activating the supply of hydrogen. The challenge is to develop the early demand that will enable the suppliers to begin their journey down the cost curve. The best way to start this journey is for governments and industry to work together in the manner outlined in this Strategy”.

While noting the significant challenges to the near term adoption of hydrogen as a power source within the Australian economy, the report concluded that there are significant risks to the Australian economy in ‘not acting early’ in terms of likely reduced economic competitiveness in the global marketplace in the future.

“The strategy proposes that Australian governments and industry work together to create ‘hydrogen hubs’ that create concentrate demand in geographical areas to lower hydrogen supply costs to the point where hydrogen can reasonably compete with existing fuel sources”, said Mark.

The report goes on to state that: “A key element of Australia’s approach will be to create hydrogen hubs – clusters of large-scale demand. These may be at ports, in cities, or in regional or remote areas, and will provide the industry with its springboard to scale. Hubs will make the development of infrastructure more cost-effective, promote efficiencies from economies of scale, foster innovation, and promote synergies from sector coupling. These will be complemented and enhanced by other early steps to use hydrogen in transport, industry and gas distribution networks, and integrate hydrogen technologies into our electricity systems in a way that enhances reliability”.

From a transport perspective, the report notes that progress is already being made in respect of the use of hydrogen for transport. This progress includes three demonstration projects, namely:

  • A Queensland Government trial of Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs) with fuel sourced from a $3.1M renewable hydrogen facility to be developed by BOC at Bulwer Island in Brisbane. The project will support the supply of hydrogen to a hydrogen fuelling station to be located at the Queensland University of Technology’s Kelvin Grove campus in Brisbane. The station is expected to be operational by mid-2020.
  • The ACT “Hydrogen for Transport” project which comprises a partnership between the ACT Government, Neoen, Hyundai and ActewAGL for the delivery of a hydrogen supply chain that will support the operation of 20 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in the ACT Government fleet. The project is forecast to deliver Australia’s first hydrogen refuelling station in Canberra in early 2020.
  • The construction of a new Hydrogen Centre by Toyota as part of a larger plan to transform Toyota’s former manufacturing site at Altona in Melbourne. An electrolyser and hydrogen refuelling station will be fully operational by late 2020. It will be Victoria’s first commercial-scale station for refuelling hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

“All in all, the Australian Hydrogen Strategy is a good read and provides a comprehensive of the current state of development in respect of the future use of hydrogen to power transport in Australia”, concluded Mark