Will hydrogen fuel cars take over our roads? Here’s what two CEOs think
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Last weekend, at Japan’s Fuji 24 Hours full-day race, Toyota unveiled its new hydrogen fuel Corolla Sport race cars. One was driven in part by the company’s own CEO.
The 1.6-litre inline 3-cylinder engine car managed to lap 358 rounds at an average speed of 67km/h, which was only half the lap count of the eventual winner, the Nissan GT-R.
Although it was more of a stunt, the event did showcase the future of hydrogen as viable alternative to both fossil fuel and electric cars.
Under normal driving conditions, a hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) could go as far as 650km on a single tank of fuel, and takes only five minutes to fill up, compared to an EV car which could take hours.
The hydrogen vehicle generates electricity to power the motor from a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen.
But the uptake on FCEV has been slow, mainly due to the lack of refuelling stations available.
A total of 20 zero-emission Hyundai NEXO hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicles are set to hit the road in Australia in March, as part of the ACT government fleet.
The NEXO fleet represents the first deployment of fully certified FCEVs in Australia, as well as the first use of hydrogen vehicles by a government in this country.
But the question remains, will FCEVs become ubiquitous on Australian roads, or will EVs eventually take the grip on the passenger car market?
According to Infinite Blue (IBE) CEO, Stephen Gauld, who spoke directly with Stockhead, it will be a mix of both.
Infinite Blue is a pre-IPO company which is at the forefront of the green hydrogen revolution. The company’s Arrowsmith hydrogen project in WA is expected to produce up to 25 tons of green hydrogen out of non-carbon sources, such as water, sun, and wind.
Gauld said the market is changing slowly, but over the next two years, we will see a lot more hydrogen vehicles in the passenger car market.
“The hydrogen-fuelled passenger vehicles are really coming to Australia. Interestingly, Uber is offering all of their current drivers who purchase a fully renewable electric or hydrogen vehicle, a 50% reduction in their monthly operating costs. So that’s going to help driver demand in the vehicles,” Gauld explained.
Hydrogen’s place in the road transport ecosystem does require a serious consideration, given that it’s more practical than EVs in refuelling.
In terms of performance, FCEVs would give the same performance advantage as EVs, as both use electric power to run the motors.
But due to the high cost of producing hydrogen right now, a lot of the investments have gone into EV startups even as Europe and China are competing to build industries around hydrogen technology.
This is the reason why most experts think that heavy cargo vehicles like trucking might adopt hydrogen first, way before passenger cars.
Unlike private cars, which are looking at electrification in the near future, long-haul trucks are keener on using hydrogen as a renewable energy source.
The reason is that hydrogen is more suited to long-distance, cross-country journeys that heavy-duty trucks usually undertake, because travel routes on those vehicles are mostly predictable.
This means that refuelling infrastructure could be built along the already-known and highly-used highway routes.
There are also other cases made for using hydrogen in the trucking industry.
Extended charging times for example, can delay payload delivery, thereby reducing the sector’s efficiency which would cost money.
“For heavy vehicles, you’ve got to offset the payload on batteries versus cargo,” Gauld said.
This is the sentiment shared by Pure Hydrogen (ASX:PH2) CEO, Scott Brown, who also spoke exclusively with Stockhead.
Pure Hydrogen is a company focused in developing a network of hydrogen refuelling hubs on the east coast of Australia.
Brown says not only does hydrogen represent a better payload for the truck than standard diesel, it’s also less costly.
“Hydrogen today is cheaper than diesel, and an exercise we did with a company showed 22.4% saving just on the fuel bill. When you’re running a big operation, any saving you make is obviously pretty beneficial,” Brown said.
Brown said one of the reasons for the cost saving is that an internal combustion engine has a lot more moving parts, and because of that, the maintenance of the engine is higher than an electric engine which has fewer moving parts.
The momentum on hydrogen-powered trucks is already gaining tractions especially in Europe, with the continent looking at hydrogen freight corridors stretching 1,300km by 2025.
Major truck makers have also started to get on board, with the prototype of Mercedes-Benz’s GenH2 truck currently being tested on the roads.
Daimler, Volvo, and Hyundai are also fast-tracking their hydrogen car fleet production, with Hyundai set to ship its first Xcient Fuel Cell truck to Europe by the fourth quarter.
To ride this momentum, Pure Hydrogen is offering services to convert fossil fuel trucks to hydrogen fuel trucks.
“It might be too expensive for them to go and buy a brand new hydrogen truck, so we will refurbish them and put in a new engine and a new fuel cell for them,” says Pure Hydrogen’s Brown.
Given what’s at stake, states in Australia have been competing to get their share of the hydrogen business.
Queensland and WA, which are the traditional oil and gas states, are leading the march towards Australia eventually becoming a hydrogen economy.
The Australian government understands the urgency, and in a recent speech to the Business Council of Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that Australia “needs to change our energy mix over the next 30 years on the road to net zero emissions”.
Pure Hydrogen and Infinite Blue are currently operating on opposite sides of the continent, with PH2 building its hydrogen plants in Queensland and IBE in WA.
“Both states are looking to deliver hydrogen for export, and they’re looking to deliver it to the Asia Pacific market,” Gauld said.
“We’ve got to make sure that we are transitioning the LNG market to hydrogen, as the Pacific countries are looking to transition over the next 5-10 years to renewable energy and displacing the current LNG imports,” he added.
At Stockhead, we tell it like it is. While Pure Hydrogen and Infinite Blue energy are Stockhead advertisers, it did not sponsor this article.