Hydrogen Is On Its Way

hydrogen is on its way

The search for alternative power for trucks in Australia is definitely on its way and the Australian Hydrogen Council points out that hydrogen is on its way, and in other parts of the world it is already a reality.

Hydrogen powered vehicles aren’t just the future, in parts of the world they’re the present. In other places they’re actually back in favour after having an initial run some time ago. Spend a bit of time digging about YouTube and you can find 1978 news footage of actor Jack Nicholson getting about in a hydrogen powered Chevy Impala. 

More recently, and closer to home, the Western Australian government ran a hydrogen powered bus trial on a number of routes in Perth. These types of examples demonstrated that hydrogen could work, but technical and economic limitations stood in the way of their widespread adoption.

So, you see, the idea of using hydrogen to power transport is not new and despite a history going back quite a while, the true age of hydrogen is, well, if not now very, very soon.

Fuel cell vehicles are travelling highways around the world right now. As reported in PowerTorque Jan/Feb 2021, Hyundai is delivering 50 of its Xcient fuel cell vehicles to clients in Switzerland. Daimler and Volvo are also working together to develop fuel cells to be incorporated into their vehicles. Iveco has entered contractual arrangements to gain access to fuel cell technology for its trucks and PACCAR, manufacturer of Kenworth, Peterbilt and DAF rigs has partnered with Toyota to incorporate fuel cells into a number of Kenworths in the United States.

While there are some new names including US based Nikola (whose owners are engaged in an entertaining feud with Elon Musk after he tweeted “Fuel Cells = Fool Cells”), Hyzon (who have recently announced a deal to deliver five trucks to Ark Energy in Queensland) and Aussie based H2X threatening to change road transport forever, the active involvement of established names indicates that a change really is coming.

The actual number of hydrogen vehicles currently on the road is still pretty small however, it is almost certain that it will continue to grow. Governments around the world are showing a commitment to hydrogen to power not just their transport sector, but their manufacturing industries and to support their existing gas and electricity networks.

In Europe, Germany is seen as a leader, while in our region Japan and South Korea are looking to Australia to potentially supply the hydrogen (and hydrogen products such as ammonia) that they need. To this end, Australia has set itself a target of being a top three exporter of hydrogen around the world.

Even though not all of the hydrogen demanded by these countries will be used in fuel cell vehicles, it will hopefully spur the development of a hydrogen production industry which will get to scale and deliver the hydrogen to power our cars, trucks and buses (and trains, ships, aircraft) more cheaply.

In fact, the Australian government’s Clean Energy Finance Corporation has recently released a report which indicates that green hydrogen (that’s hydrogen produced using renewable electricity) is currently at cost parity with diesel for a range of applications including line-haul vehicles and back to base vehicles and is forecast to reduce further.

When you consider reductions in the price of hydrogen vehicles and refuelling infrastructure over time, this will lead to significant decreases in the lifetime cost of operating a heavy vehicle.

There are still challenges to be addressed before hydrogen powered trucks are an everyday sight on our roads. We don’t currently have the necessary refuelling infrastructure and the vehicles are pretty expensive right now. We also will need to build electrolysers to produce large quantities of hydrogen and we will need to make sure that we have a workforce trained to maintain and service hydrogen vehicles. Just as importantly, we need to make sure that people are comfortable with the idea that hydrogen is a safe and effective alternative to the way we currently do things.

We’ll look at how Australian can tackle these issues in the final part of this series, but in the meantime, if you still don’t think that the hydrogen revolution is coming, well, in the words of a long time hydrogen fan, “You can’t handle the truth”. 

Submitted by Joe Kremzer, General Manager Policy at the Australian Hydrogen Council. For more information contact him at: jkremzer@h2council.com.au

hydrogen is on its way

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