No-shows from traditional key players aside, one of the most glaring differences in this year’s Brisbane Truck Show from the 2019 version was a notable surge in the presence of alternative fuel technology.
It’s clear that this is no longer a ‘crystal-ball’ sector that all sounds great in theory but will never be able to overcome the inherent infrastructure and cost hurdles.
Like it or not, emissions-free trucking – be it battery electric or hydrogen fuel cell technology – is already here and it’s getting a stronger toehold by the day.
One of those leading the way in the hydrogen sector is Hyzon, which outside of a shared slot on the Viva Energy stand, didn’t have a huge brand presence in Brisbane, but it was a name that kept cropping up in every serious conversation we dropped into around alternative fuels.
The publicly-listed company, which made its Wall Street debut last month, is led by Rochester (New York)-based Australian Craig Knight and has some 20 years of fuel cell development behind it, having evolved from founding company Horizon, which launched in 2003.
To find out more, and what the hydrogen future might hold for Australia’s operators and truckies, we caught up with the boss of its new supply chain solutions division here, Claire Johnson, head of the Hyzon Zero Carbon Alliance.
Why an alliance and who is in it
Hyzon itself is a manufacturer of commercial buses and trucks, with the first Hyzon badged and branded prime movers and rigids – up to 70 tonnes GCM – rolling off the Netherlands production line this year.
But, as an emerging sector, it recognises that it also needs to play a leadership role in developing supply chains in parallel, said Johnson.
“That’s really due to the fact that from a hydrogen perspective, having a supply worldwide is somewhat fragmented, or non-existent, and we recognise that we can’t develop those supply chains in isolation,” she said.
“We need to do that in partnership with other companies, so we launched the alliance in April of this year and brought together companies from across the value chain.”
There are nine members in all, including Ark Energy Corporation (see story opposite), the Australian subsidiary of the world’s largest zinc, lead, and silver producer, Korea Zinc Ltd.
Outside of the alliance, Hyzon also signed a strategic partnership with Viva Energy earlier this year
Viva Energy and Hyzon intend to work together to provide zero-emission vehicles coupled with hydrogen refuelling solutions to customers, delivering a complete turn-key hydrogen transport solution, said a statement at the time.
“We’re looking at developing a hydrogen supply chain in Victoria, initially centred around their refinery in Geelong,” Johnson added.
Johnson said the alliance also enables Hyzon to fast-track the uptake process of the technology by offering a “complete solution”.
“If we have operator who needs a source of hydrogen, we can link them with a company that we have essentially pre-screened and we know their technology well.
“So, the fleet operator has confidence that they can source their hydrogen in a reliable and cost-effective manner, and we will help them do that with an end-to-end solution.”
Total cost of ownership (TCO)
Not surprisingly, this will be the toughest nut to crack for Johnson in the early stages in an industry driven by the bottom line, particularly while there is no “visibility” around hydrogen pricing at present.
“We have to present them [operators] with an attractive TCO to really convince them that a hydrogen solution is something they should be seriously looking at,” she said.
“That’s why we’re actively working with partners to bring down the price of hydrogen across those different generation methods.
“A lot of that can be achieved by scale so we just need to increase the amount of hydrogen produced in Australia and we’ll automatically see a reduction in price.”
At present, Johnson said hydrogen is cheap to make, but expensive to transport.
“Customers sometimes say, ‘yes, we want to go green, but green hydrogen can have a premium.”
Meanwhile, Johnson and her team are focusing on developing unique models based on each customer’s individual needs and fleet requirements, and hammering home the savings that can be made in vehicle maintenance costs.
The alliance is also offering all-in-one lease option that bundles fuel, service and maintenance costs into one package.
“That gives fleets a chance to really trial the technology before a really long-term commitment to the vehicle.
“We recognise that we do have to have the equivalency to diesel for this industry to really take off, if not better than diesel. That’s what we’re working towards.”
With current fuel technology, the Hyzon prime movers are delivering over 600km with 60km of gaseous hydrogen on board and a GCM of up to 70 tonnes, but that’s all about to change, said Johnson.
Hyzon’s next-gen fuel cell, the Titan 3, is currently in testing for a 2022 launch and that option promises to deliver a GCM of over 150 tonnes, bringing in a much wider scope of heavy-duty MC applications.
In conjunction with those advancements, the alliance team is talking to companies looking at opportunities to build hydrogen refuelling stations along key freight routes between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.
It only takes 15 minutes to refuel a prime mover with hydrogen, a key advantage of this emissions-free fuel option, said Johnson, who is hoping to see these interstate refuelling networks begin to emerge within the next two to three years.
“Along the Hume that would essentially mean you have a refuelling point in Melbourne, a secondary point around say Albury-Wodonga and then a third into Sydney that would enable these vehicles to do that entire route with ease.
“The Queensland government has also been very supportive and has just closed a ground round for hydrogen mobility projects, and we’re hopeful that through that process we’ll see some more stations built in Queensland as well.”
In the not-too-distant future, Johnson said liquid hydrogen, which is being developed now, will also come on tap pushing the potential range of a Hyzon prime mover out to 1000km before the need to refuel.
“There are lots of industries that are really going to benefit from this technology and it’s really from recognition that they all see they need to do more to decarbonise their fleet.
“Some have looked at battery-electric options, and battery-electric certainly has part of market that it’s really suitable for.
“But as you move into those heavier payloads, longer range, need for quick refuelling vehicles that’s where operators are really starting to pay more attention to hydrogen in a way they haven’t before, and that’s really exciting for us.”