Hydrogen fuel cell vs battery electric vehicles in Australia: the technology explained

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TThe prevailing view that the majority of the world’s new car fleet will be battery powered may be correct in the near future, but the development of hydrogen technology ramping up. Automakers are devoting more investment and resources to hydrogen, which is growing alongside massive efforts focusing from the combustion engine to lithium-ion batteries.

In Australia, the most obvious hydrogen players are Toyota and Hyundai, which are also pioneers in the hybrid technology and electrification market. Rather than being a ‘cover bet’ case to see which technology emerges as the dominant form of vehicle power source, experts say it’s not a battle – it’s a partnership much like the one gasoline and diesel.

“It shouldn’t be viewed as hydrogen fuel cells or electric vehicles; we should be looking for further deployment of these technologies in the future, ”says Prof. John Andrews, Hydrogen Renewable Energy Specialist at RMIT.

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A researcher in energy sustainability for more than 40 years, Professor Andrews has focused on hydrogen since the early 2000s. He says that hydrogen has been chosen mainly because of its difficulty to implement initially than the technology. batteries, but has the potential to outperform batteries in many applications.

“The advantages of FCEVs are the short refueling time and the maximum travel you can do on a single fill, where EVs struggle to do this or are too heavy when trying to compete over distance. For shorter journeys, where it is possible to charge more frequently, battery-powered electric vehicles are ideal.

“If we could go to the market with that choice, that would be the optimal situation. “

Honda Clarity fuel cell

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While hydrogen has apparently encountered dead ends in urban passenger cars like the recently discontinued Honda Clarity, the industry is shifting its investment toward more commercial applications.

Toyota’s $ 7.4 million Hydrogen Center in West Melbourne is set to “demonstrate that hydrogen is a viable fuel source for transportation and energy storage,” the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) having contributed $ 3.1 million of funds.

As for Hyundai, its Nexo SUV is only here as a vehicle of the government ACT and QLD fleet; the company has expanded its testing and research on the FCEV to focus on commercial vehicles. Its Xcient is the world’s first mass-produced fuel cell heavy truck, with a fleet of 46 trucks in Switzerland collectively exceeding 1 million kilometers traveled in just 11 months between 2020 and 2021.

Hyundai Nexo Canebrra hydrogen refueling station

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While hydrogen has apparently encountered dead ends in urban passenger cars, the industry is shifting its investments towards more commercial applications.

Hyundai Australia’s public relations manager Bill Thomas said a similar local trial would be welcome, but the infrastructure must exist. He says that in Australia a partnership with an energy company producing hydrogen (in Switzerland it was H2 Energy) to lease and operate the trucks could be the starting point.

Ampol and CSIRO have created a hydrogen start-up called Endua, with initial funding of $ 5 million, but its initial focus will be energy storage.

However, Hyundai New Zealand is starting a trial this year with at least five Xcient trucks to “ensure that several large New Zealand truck fleets get to know FCEV trucks directly.”

Hyundai H2 Xcient

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Hyundai’s H2 Xcient fuel cell truck

In a similar shift from passenger vehicles to commercial use, Mercedes-Benz ended its hydrogen-powered Mercedes-Benz GLC F-Cell project in 2020 in favor of an investment in its Daimler Mercedes-Benz GenH2 truck, which has started testing in May 2021., the brand is in a similar position to Hyundai, where a local test would be welcome if the conditions were right in terms of infrastructure and investment.

Mercedes also took a $ 105 million stake in Swedish start-up H2 Green Steel, which uses hydrogen to make steel rather than a traditional blast furnace. It is applications such as this, according to Professor Andrews, that will show the diversity of hydrogen’s capabilities and are most likely to lead to more investment and confidence in the development of an infrastructure network. . He suggests that trucking or even long-haul shipping is a perfect start, as pre-determined routes mean fewer refueling stations are needed for a trial of FCEV trucks or long haul trips in Australia.

CSIRO’s National Hydrogen Roadmap shows that a commercially viable hydrogen industry “comprising both domestic and export value chains is achievable by 2030”, which will play a role in both in transport fuels and network energy storage. As the production and availability of hydrogen increases, FCEVs will increasingly play a complementary, and not competitive, role with BEVs.


Where’s the hydrogen?

Toyota Hydrogen Center

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Altona’s Toyota Hydrogen Center, on the site of its former manufacturing plant, is arguably Australia’s most publicized production and refueling station. However, Hyundai has two.

One is a station in Canberra, accessible to those using the ACT government’s Nexos fleet, and the other is a private station in Sydney at Hyundai headquarters. Brisbane will be the site of a third, managed by BOC and capable of supplying the five Nexos of the Queensland government.

The Victorian government has announced a $ 9 million hydrogen production plant in Warrnambool with Deakin University, and Hydrogen Fuels Australia will also build a production and refueling plant in Melbourne, near Toyota’s base in Altona.

How’s it going ?

Toyota CEO Matthew Callachor

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The most abundant element in the universe is not so much “made” as it is separated from substances like gas or water. In the case of gas, usually methane, hydrogen is extracted using high temperatures and steam, although the non-hydrogen molecules (carbon in methane, oxygen in water) become carbon monoxide.

The cleaner – but often more expensive – method of producing hydrogen is to use water electrolysis, which uses electricity to separate hydrogen from oxygen in water, releasing only oxygen. of the process once the hydrogen has been stored.


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