There’s a saying among the truck makers that if you want to break a truck, you send it to Australia. If we are to get serious about reducing emissions from the transport sector and doing it in a way that makes economic sense, we need to start trying to break some trucks.
Analysis by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation suggests that over their lifetime, hydrogen fuel cell trucks (FCEVs) will be cheaper to own and operate than equivalent diesel models for long haul applications. I have been pointing out this analysis to anyone who asks me about how hydrogen can play a role in in our future energy mix. Clearly hydrogen has a place in heavy trucking.
However, we still need to see how these vehicles work under Australian conditions for major fleet replacement. And with vehicle purchasers lacking confidence in the total cost of ownership or return on investment (and lacking refuelling infrastructure) OEMs aren’t seeing the demand signals at any real scale.
The good news is that some businesses have been prepared to purchase FCEVs, and we are also seeing trucks coming to Australia. For example, AHC member Ark Energy has ordered five 154 tonne Hyzon trucks, which are expected to hit our shores in 2022. Ark Energy has also built its own hydrogen refuelling infrastructure.
The AHC has recently released a white paper, outlining how Australia can seize the opportunities that hydrogen presents in terms of decarbonising our economy. Regarding transport, we outline what should be done to make to ensure that FCEVs are a reality for businesses seeking to reduce their emissions in the short term and to provide suitable alternatives to internal combustion powered vehicles when they are no longer being made by a number of manufacturers.
In developing this paper we have looked at what is being done overseas to prove hydrogen mobility solutions and have found that demonstration projects can be a key step towards providing industry with certainty around the total cost of ownership of hydrogen vehicles.
Based on overseas progress, AHC is recommending:
- At least two heavy vehicle trials of large fleets, at a minimum amount of $200 million each, focussed on heavily-trafficked truck routes (e.g. Sydney-Melbourne);
- At least three larger trials for lighter trucks for logistics near hydrogen centres, at $25 million each; and
- At least two larger trials for bus routes near hydrogen centres, at $45 million each for 40 buses (or a combination of smaller and larger, at $12 million per small trial for 10 buses.
While these look like big commitments from Government, we believe that initial public funding will unlock many times more value in private investment and, in the context of a broader transition to hydrogen in other sectors such as manufacturing, export and stationary energy, create huge economic benefits.
While other challenges to the uptake of FCEVs remain (our white paper has recommendations on these too!) we want to see truck trials and demonstrations happening as soon as possible.
We know that hydrogen stacks up against diesel in terms of fuel costs, but the only way we will really know whether these vehicles can stand up to everything that our country can throw at them is to see them in action. This will give us a picture of maintenance and other operating costs, and only then can fleet owners and other businesses who are reliant on heavy road transport can make informed decisions about how to reduce emissions.
Joe Kremzer is the General Manager of Policy at the Australian Hydrogen Council.