Did I just hear you say you were one of the founders of the Australian Hydrogen Association, the organiser of this conference and exhibition?
I was. It started with a couple of people in the room talking about what the future of hydrogen might be in Australia and here we are today almost nine years later with 400 delegates from across Australia from Australia’s biggest companies talking about what hydrogen will mean in this country. We’ve had the former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and federal and state energy ministers here, some spending the whole day meeting people and talking. The amount of the minister interaction at this conference has been phenomenal. The message from the state and federal governments is that this is the way forward
It strikes me as a really different approach to how they have dealt with EVs, getting on the wrong side of the EV rollout. Is this their opportunity? I mean you have to get support from that quarter. If you don’t have the right policies, how are you going to transition?
It’s not just funding from federal and state governments and agencies. We are seeing massive multinational companies here and the Australian companies like Woodside and others that are investing heavily into the future. They know that the countries that we export resources to don’t want coal and gas into the future; they want green hydrogen.
Can you help me understand why they say Australia is the most perfectly positioned country in the world to produce and export hydrogen?
The CSIRO has done heat and wind maps around Australia, and there’s probably no better stretch of the coastline in the world than what we have here in Australia to deploy not just solar panels in locations that also have wind, so that when the sun is not shining you have the wind blowing at night. The best location is two renewable energies to capture energy and make hydrogen. We have a lot of space to do it, and everything is pretty close to the ports. Compared with Europe there’s not a whole lot of land in those countries. We’re not constrained by land.
How long have you been building hydrogen vehicles?
We’ve been doing research for 20 yrs. In 2013, we had the first mass produced hydrogen fuel cell vehicles on the roads. This car here, the Nexo, was the second generation of that.
Tell us how they work?
There are gas tanks in the rear of the vehicle. Hydrogen flows into a box in the engine. There’s no wear, and no servicing of that box. We take 99.9 percent of all the fine particulate matter out of the air, so purified air goes in with the purified hydrogen and there’s a chemical reaction — we don’t burn it — where we reverse how we made it. So we’ll use renewable energy and water to make it, and then the chemical reaction inside of the fuel cell stack actually reverses that and water goes out of the exhaust and the energy is used to power the electric motor. The electric motor in this car is the same as the Kona electric motor from Hyundai. It’s an electric car; we just don’t use a battery, we use a store of hydrogen. The benefit is we can fill it in three minutes and this car has just set a world record a couple of weeks ago — this very car we are sitting in — of 887 kilometres on a single tank.
I have goosebumps.
This car set the world record and it was on green hydrogen made from solar power and water. A video of the event is on the TV here. Most people stop to watch it and shed a tear. It’s showing the practicality and durability, and long range of a zero-emission vehicle from energy made in Australia. We are not importing energy from overseas. It’s actually made here.
Made in Australia, but also for Australia. The whole range anxiety concern which has been a thorn in the battery-powered EV debate here is irrelevant in this vehicle. However, there must be other bugbears and misconceptions to deal with. What about concern about gas tanks blowing up?
It doesn’t happen. The tanks are made of carbon fibre. As someone who has crash tested cars and studied fatalities, I would rather have my wife and kids in this car than a petrol car any day of the week. The cars are very, very safe. They have a five-star ANCAP rating.
What countries or parts of the world are leaders in the adoption of hydrogen fuel cell cars?
Germany, followed by California, and then the UK, France, and Italy. They are all doing it because all of those places have banned the sale of petrol cars and diesel cars from 2030.
How many of these vehicles are on the road in Australia? And what’s the outlook for say, a year out?
There’s about 30 vehicles on the road at the moment. If we get more hydrogen refuelling stations we could have three times the number.
One last question — because we are writing for a fleet audience — how do you want to see fleet approach these new technologies?
A chief consideration for us is to get more competition to build infrastructure and get it deployed. So when fleet goes to choose a car they have more choices. The key to making this work in Australia is having good strong competition among makers of cars and of stations. Also, I’d say: don’t set a target of 50 percent, or 100 percent. Set a target of 5 percent of your vehicles in your fleet with zero emissions and then we will work with you to transfer the rest of them as we move along.