There have been a flurry of Federal Government announcements and policy statements on alternative fuels in recent weeks, as the two major political parties chase votes in the lead-up to the 2022 Federal election on 21 May 2022. These announcements have almost entirely focussed on electric cars and EV charging infrastructure, which might create the impression that Hydrogen vehicles have become a lesser focus.
But nothing could be further than the truth.
In fact, there have been a number of announcements in the last 6 months that indicate the Hydrogen vehicles agenda in Australia is gaining momentum – and that is particularly the case when it comes to hydrogen powered heavy vehicles.
“When people talk about battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) they are generally referring to cars as the development of electric trucks is a much harder ask in Australia, given the high energy use of these vehicles and the absence of a national network of ultra-fast charging infrastructure to support the nationwide movement of these vehicles”, said ACAPMA CEO Mark McKenzie.
“It is for this reason that industry and government alike have been more heavily focussed on the opportunities to use hydrogen (known as Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles or FCEVs) to power our trucks and buses in the future”, said Mark.
Battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) and hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) both provide the same emissions reduction potential for heavy vehicle operators to meet the Australian community’s aspiration for reduced emissions from on-road vehicles. The key difference is that the electricity to power an FCEV is generated ‘on-board’ the vehicle which removes the need for the vehicle to be charged in the same way as a BEV.
FCEVs need to be supported by the development of new refuelling infrastructure to supply the hydrogen needed for the onboard energy conversion process in much the same way that conventional vehicles are filled with diesel. While this brings the same investment and infrastructure challenges as BEVs, FCEVs provide a solution that is better suited to the high horsepower and range requirements of Australia’s national truck fleet.
“The requirement for FCEVs to be supported by national refuelling infrastructure, as opposed to majority home recharging of BEVs (i.e. cars) is good news for our industry so long as we are willing to invest in the infrastructure needed to diversity our supply chain system and retail forecourts”, said Mark.
“And the same diversification opportunity exists for our wholesale businesses given that hydrogen is also likely to be used in other industries like manufacturing, mining and remote power generation”, added Mark.
So, given that FCEVs seem to be well aligned with Australia’s ‘Net Zero Emissions’ goals – and could be readily supported by the progressive adaption of the fuel industry’s distribution, wholesale and retail businesses – what is happening at the moment?
Well, the good news is that there is a lot happening – both globally and nationally.
Just this week, two of the biggest players in the global truck industry announced that they had formed a partnership to produced FCEVs. Cummins Engines and Daimler Trucks (North America) have formed a collaboration to produce a new FCEV high horsepower prime mover that will be powered by a Cummins’ 15litre hydrogen engine. The ‘prototype-style’ vehicle will hit the road soon in North America and, subject to a successful trial, it is expected that an initial supply of these trucks will be available for purchase in mid-2024 (and full-scale production predicted from 2027).
This announcement is one in a growing list of commitments to FCEVs in the global heavy market with established global truck manufacturers like Volvo, Daimler Europe, Kenworth, and Hino Trucks committing to FCEV development projects. New players are emerging too with companies like Hyzon, Nikola and Symbio effectively ‘betting it all’ on the growth of FCEVs globally in the same way that Tesla is betting on BEVs in the global car market.
“But there are significant developments in the FCEV market occurring right here in Australia too”, said Mark.
In March of this year, the three East-Coast Australian State Governments (New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria) announced a partnership to develop the ‘Hydrogen Superhighway’ to support FCEV operations up and down the eastern seaboard. A Memorandum of Understanding between the three states has been signed to develop and implement the refuelling network for freight vehicles on the Hume Highway, Pacific Highway and Newell Highway – although no timeline has yet been given as to when it will become operational (See https://acapmag.com.au/2022/03/australian-hydrogen-superhighway-announced-for-queensland-nsw-and-victoria/)
“The announcement of the tripartite state government partnership was shortly followed by a significant announcement of an FCEV initiative by one of our own, with Viva’s announcement of its ‘New Energies Service Station’ in Geelong in early April”, said Mark.
It is understood that the new station will open in late 2023 and will provide battery electric vehicle (BEV) charging along with public refuelling of hydrogen powered trucks and buses. The station will be sited on the corner of Station Street and the Princes Highway at the entrance to Viva’s Geelong Refinery. Hydrogen will be sourced from Viva’s sustainable manufacturing facility, the $43.3 million Geelong Energy Hub that includes a two-megawatt electrolyser to make green hydrogen using recycled water from Barwon Water’s Northern Water Plant.
Green hydrogen is hydrogen derived from an electrolysis process where all the energy used in the process is derived from renewable sources and is therefore the most desirable from an environmental perspective – as distinct from Blue, Grey and Turquoise Hydrogen (An explanation of the various ‘colours’ of hydrogen can be found at: Grey, blue, green – the many colours of hydrogen explained | World Economic Forum (weforum.org))
There are also has a number of real-world FCEV pilot projects of heavy vehicle applications either underway, or about to commence, in Australia. One of the more significant is the Hyzon Trucks project in Port Kembla in Wollongong, NSW. This project involves the activation of a number of Hyzon Hymax-450 prime movers which are expected to be delivered before the middle of the year. The vehicles will be refuelled at the Coregas facility at Bluescope’s Port Kembla Steelworks facility and will be the first deployment of a Hydrogen-powered prime mover fleet in Australia.
“There are numerous other FCEV projects in the planning process. Most of these projects are backed by big businesses and investment companies with ‘deep pockets’, suggesting that Australia is likely to see significant numbers of FCEV trucks and busses in operation in the national vehicle fleet over the medium term (next 10 to 15 years)”, said Mark
“The central question for our industry is how quickly these vehicles will be adopted in the heavy vehicle market, with most commentators – even the shareholders in these projects – suggesting that we are at least 10 years away from mass market availability in Australia”, said Mark
“The point is, however, that the development of hydrogen technology for Australia’s national truck and bus fleet is already underway – and our industry needs to watch this agenda closely so that we are ready to transform our forecourts in line with the growth of these vehicles in the future”, concluded Mark