From fuel of the future to mainstream option

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by Claire Johnson, Chief Executive Officer, Hydrogen Mobility Australia

Hydrogen has long been touted as a fuel of the future, but Australia is rapidly mobilising a workforce that will bring this technology into the mainstream.

“Hydrogen is the fuel of the future – and always will be,” goes the joke, and it’s one I’ve heard on a number of occasions in my role as CEO of industry association, Hydrogen Mobility Australia.

While a level of cynicism is part and parcel of any emerging space, it’s statements such as this that often lead to one of the most enjoyable parts of my role – that is, engaging with the critics with the intention of turning sceptics into supporters, or at least open to hydrogen’s possibilities.

I’ve observed however that my opportunity to go head-to-head with the hydrogen disbelievers are becoming fewer in number of late.

There are several reasons why this is the case; the falling cost of renewables, technological advancements in hydrogen production, and commitments from countries such as Japan to a hydrogen future to name just a few. Combined, they mean the economics of hydrogen are stacking up.

Hydrogen is now overcoming a critical juncture, transitioning from its “fuel of the future” status towards mainstream adoption.

The ideal conditions for what we call a Hydrogen Society, a model of decarbonisation where hydrogen features predominantly in the global energy mix, are starting to be realised.

Hydrogen Mobility Australia was officially launched in early 2018 to fulfil exactly this – a hydrogen society for Australia. Our mission is to accelerate the adoption of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies to support Australia’s decarbonisation and energy security objectives, while creating new jobs, investment and innovation through the most abundant element in the universe.

Co-founded by Hyundai and Toyota, who have since been joined by some of Australia’s leading brands including BP, Caltex, Siemens and Woodside, we have united together behind hydrogen in recognition of its potential to support Australia’s clean energy transition.

While we are a hydrogen ecosystem advocate, our association has a strategic focus on hydrogen in mobility. To enable the introduction of hydrogen-powered transport to Australia, we are working with our members and governments to facilitate the development of a hydrogen refuelling station network across the country.

We are excited by the many benefits that the introduction of hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles, or FCEVs, will bring to Australia. As the name implies, an FCEV is an electric vehicle, however, unlike a battery electric vehicle (or BEV), which stores its electricity in a battery, an FCEV produces its own electricity on-board and on-demand in a fuel cell. Both technologies are zero emission and can equally play significant roles in the decarbonisation of the Australian transport sector while reducing our dependency on imported fossil fuels.

While there are many similarities between BEVs and FCEVs, there are also unique characteristics. FCEVs provide long travel range (the Hyundai NEXO offers up to 800km), fast refuelling time (three to five minutes), and scalability of hydrogen storage and fuel cells, meaning greater suitability for larger vehicles.

Certain transport segments will strongly benefit from the hydrogen age, including heavy vehicles (such as buses, trucks and trains), fleet vehicles and autonomous vehicles where features such as the range, minimal downtime for refuelling and heavy payload capability are particularly advantageous.

While the price of FCEVs and the availability of infrastructure is often a talking point, CSIRO analysis through their National Hydrogen Roadmap published in 2018 found that FCEVs will reach price parity with the internal combustion engine in 2025. This is the same year that’s being forecast for BEVs.

On the infrastructure side, countries around the world have committed to build 2800 hydrogen refuelling stations, also by 2025. This is sufficient to cover the world’s leading markets for FCEVs. As a point of comparison, there are currently around 10,000 Tesla superchargers worldwide.

It’s becoming apparent that we’ll need a range of technology solutions to help achieve reduced emissions across the entire transport spectrum – passenger and commercial vehicles, and also marine and aviation. This is why we believe both BEVs and FCEVs should be supported by governments, with the market left to decide which vehicle technology best meets their lifestyle, usage and application area.

While our technology has been the underdog in Australia to date, the benefits of hydrogen in transport have recently been recognised by Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, who views hydrogen as playing a key role in decarbonising Australia’s transport fleet, particularly in the heavy vehicle sector.

Hydrogen Mobility Australia strongly welcomed the Dr Finkel-led announcement in December 2018 that Australian governments will develop a National Hydrogen Strategy and outline a pathway for Australia to develop a hydrogen sector, including hydrogen transport.

To be developed through COAG, the National Hydrogen Strategy will determine a coordinated way forward to maximise Australia’s competitive advantages, such as our large renewable energy potential, and become a major global hydrogen player.

With development throughout 2019 and implementation from 2020, the strategy will focus on policies and measures to enable the domestic use of hydrogen in areas including transport and refuelling infrastructure, injection into the gas supply, interaction with electricity systems, industrial processes as well as the export of hydrogen and its carriers to the world.

The opportunity for Australia to create the right environment for hydrogen-powered transport to proliferate will be undertaken as one of the strategy’s three kickstarter projects, alongside enabling hydrogen injection into the natural gas grid, and outreach with major trading partners to secure hydrogen supply opportunities.

Specifically, the transport workstream will scope the potential for building hydrogen refuelling stations in every Australian state and territory, including the necessary regulatory changes and implementation of technical standards to enable this.

This work will be undertaken in partnership between Australian governments and Hydrogen Mobility Australia in recognition of the importance of industry input in getting the settings right. We are excited to work together with government to lay the foundation for the advent of hydrogen transport in Australia.

One particularly pleasing aspect about the strategy and in fact, hydrogen more broadly, is that it enjoys bipartisan support from both major Australia political parties. Being within the politically contentious energy policy space, this makes it a highly unique position.

The ALP election platform for instance similarly includes a commitment to develop a national hydrogen strategy, meaning that whatever the outcome of the 2019 federal election, a hydrogen roadmap or Australia will be realised.

And so, Australia is embracing hydrogen. By being a first mover, we can gain a competitive advantage over other nations and start building the local capability in areas such as transport, in preparation for large-scale export from 2030 and beyond.

The so-called “fuel of the future” has a future that is being realised here and now, and Australia is leading the charge. Together, Hydrogen Mobility Australia and our members are very much looking forward to a world where hydrogen is the solution to a cleaner environment both now and for generations to come.

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