Hydrogen fuel trials are emerging across Australia, but a project in Tasmania is seeking to create an entirely renewable energy-generated supply chain — from green hydrogen production through to distribution.

The state will soon have hydrogen fuel pumps at several service stations as governments and the private sector combine to try fast-track the uptake of zero-emissions vehicles in the heavy transport sector.

The commonwealth will provide $5 million to LINE Hydrogen, which plans to have its solar-powered hydrogen production facility in Tasmania’s north ready early next year.

The company has entered into an agreement with fuel retailer Bonney Energy to establish hydrogen fuel pumps at some of its outlets, and directly at freight company sites.

The pumps will be on major Tasmanian freight routes, including the Midland Highway.

The trial includes the rollout of hydrogen-converted trucks — up to B-double in size — which will be run by freight companies in Tasmania under lease agreements, or via subcontract.

LINE Hydrogen executive chair Brendan James said “This is new tech” and companies needed to be “comfortable”.

“The truck that we’re rolling out to start with, they’re manufactured here in Australia. They’re Australian chassis, ADR-compliant, that are being converted across to run on hydrogen.

“By far the fastest way for us to really start to make an impact, to really start reducing our CO2 emissions, is to start converting the trucks that are already on the road.”

Tasmania considered ideal starting point

The trial will be small at first, but the rollout of hydrogen vehicles, which emit water vapour and heat, could accelerate quickly over the coming decade to match Australia’s net-zero targets.

Bonney Energy chief executive officer David Miller said the introduction of a hydrogen supply chain model had occurred sooner than anticipated.

He said the broader uptake could take several years, but the trial would demonstrate to freight companies — as well as commuter bus transport and consumers — how hydrogen refuelling could look in the future.

“You can’t just build these things and expect customers to show up. You need to actually work with the end customers, you need to work with distribution companies to make sure that when they do build and implement, there’s actually somewhere to send the product they’re making,” Mr Miller said.

“What we’re expecting to see is initially there’ll be a fairly small targeted group of users, in the next 12 to 18 months, where hydrogen becomes part of their fuel source as they change their engines out or purchase vehicles with that capability already installed.

“Over the next two to five years period, there’ll be a growing take up across heavy vehicle users as part of the commitment to decarbonise their fleets.”

The trial could ultimately be expanded to the company’s mainland distribution networks, but Tasmania was considered an ideal starting point due to its abundant renewable energy.

The hydrogen fuel pumps will look similar to a diesel refueller, with a bullet tank at the service station.

Trials to help identify issues

Hydrogen production has long been touted as a major growth industry for Australian exports, with some regional projects reliant on gas, and others on renewables — but domestic vehicle uptake has not yet emerged.

The United States – particularly California — and China are among the further advanced in hydrogen uptake for heavy transport.

The Victorian and NSW governments have jointly funded the $20 million Hume Hydrogen Highway grant scheme for four refuelling stations with about 25 hydrogen-powered trucks, with applications closing last month.

The commonwealth also has a $15 billion reconstruction fund to aid in the transition to low and zero-emissions vehicles.

National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) safety and performance director Peter Austin said hydrogen vehicle technology was still in the developmental phase in Australia, and diesel vehicles would still be needed.

“These trials will also assist vehicle and infrastructure regulators to understand the potential issues and impacts these vehicles will have on our roads,” Mr Austin said.

“While the NHVR expects that for new trucks and buses early models brought to market will be imported, as the technology matures local manufacturers will seek to build these vehicles locally as they transition their production line to reflect the newer technology.

“The transition to a low and no emissions future has already started and will likely include diesel vehicles for some time. The first step in the transition is the move to cleaner diesel vehicles.”

Trials could also allow light hydrogen vehicles to gain more traction.

Only two hydrogen fuel cell models — one Toyota and one Hyundai — are available for use in Australia, via special order only.

Toyota expects they will eventually be sold in the mainstream market in Australia, alongside its hybrid options, later this decade once refuelling infrastructure has expanded.

Extracted in full from: Hydrogen fuel pumps are on the way in Australia — so how long until the vehicles arrive? – ABC News