A regional transport service in central Queensland has opted to switch its fleet of diesel-powered buses to hydrogen fuel cell electric ones in a move it says is an Australian-first for a private company.

Each year, the 120 buses in Emerald Coaches’ fleet consumed more than a million litres of fuel and produced 3,100 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

In response, the family-owned company has set a net zero emissions target by 2040, which is 10 years ahead of the federal government’s current commitment.

Company director Michael Baulch said while it was “the right thing to do”, it was also a smart business decision.

“We think [diesel buses] are going to become obsolete and we think it’s important that we lead the way in this transition,” Mr Baulch said.

A man and woman on a dusty road with a bus in the background
Emerald Coaches is the largest provider of school bus services in Queensland’s Central Highlands.(Supplied: Emerald Coaches)

“Our hydrogen fuel cell electric buses will have roughly the same range [as a diesel bus], it’ll take about 10 minutes to fuel a bus, and it’ll have about 800 kilometres in range.”

“We already find it difficult to attract mechanics and people to work on these vehicles. I’m just not sure how many skilled tradesmen we’re going to have to be servicing the diesel vehicles in 15 years’ time.”

Battery versus hydrogen

Mr Baulch said when considering net zero options, the choice was between battery electric or hydrogen fuel cell electric.

There are some limiting factors in terms of battery electric vehicles that have led us to this,” he said.

“Part of that is the infrastructure cost to be able to get enough energy into our depot to be able to charge 60 vehicles at any one time in the Emerald area.”

The hydrogen option offered better fuel security and range, and allowed the company to produce its own hydrogen.

In the future, green hydrogen fuel will be produced at its depot in Emerald, 270 kilometres west of Rockhampton, with rainwater captured onsite with a renewable-powered electrolyser.

Sustainable businesses more competitive

Alex Zafiriadis from the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland said businesses that adopt sustainable or carbon-neutral practices are becoming more resilient, competitive and economical.

“We’re seeing that [businesses are turning to sustainability] increasingly, but we’d like to see a whole lot more to be honest,” Mr Zafiriadis said.

“It really comes down to businesses being able to adopt sustainable business practices as an operational priority.

A drone shot of land, with a couple large sheds and buses lined up.
Green hydrogen fuel will be produced at the Emerald Coaches depot by using rainwater with a renewable-powered electrolyser.(Supplied: Emerald Coaches)