There is a lot of talk about hydrogen as an alternative source of zero emissions fuel, but is there a hydrogen road map, and when will it arrive here in Australia?
There is unlikely to be any real introduction of hydrogen powered trucks in Australia, from Volvo, until the second half of the 2020s, reckons Paul Ilmer, Vice President Emerging Technology Business development at Volvo.
“The second half of the decade for fuel cell electric platform introduction and hydrogen injection is still an unknown,” says Paul. “It’s also dependent on development of synthetic fuels as well because you’re adding the complexity of hydrogen injection.
“From a hydrogen perspective, in the second half of the decade, we’re aiming for the same range as a diesel truck. That’s our corporate aim, and then, from a tonnage perspective, we should be able to handle a B-double comfortably, but it’s still to be tested, it’s really a validation question.
“So far, we’re not seeing many technical issues. In terms of supply, the trick is going to be ensuring supply on freight routes, making sure that hydrogen is available on the freight routes we all use now.”
Hydrogen suppliers will need to adapt to the needs of the trucking industry, rather than the trucking industry change its behaviour to suit hydrogen suppliers. The introduction of hydrogen for combustion engines can’t be disruptive. Operationally, Paul feels fuel distribution needs to be very similar to the set-up today.
There is a dynamic between the large corporations and the truck manufacturers, which is going to have to play out in order for one to be able to sell hydrogen to the trucking industry and for the truck makers to be able to sell hydrogen engine trucks to the industry.
Both will need to invest, but need the other to guarantee the demand, both for fuel and for trucks. In Europe, Volvo and Daimler have jointly financed a large number of electric charging facilities to ensure infrastructure to charge the electric trucks they want to sell. A similar deal, or government intervention may be needed in this chicken or egg type scenario.
There is no point in selling 200 hydrogen trucks without refuelling infrastructure being there, but there’s no point in investing in a servo with a hydrogen bowser, if there are no hydrogen trucks passing.
“There’s a consortium looking to set up hydrogen refuelling here, when the truck makers have trucks,” says Paul. “We’re completely transparent. But, I’ve seen over the last 12 months an absolute tsunami of enquiry, and I think the infrastructure probably has an opportunity to go earlier than the truck supply.”