Hydrogen and the future of heavy transport

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Australia’s ability to reduce its emissions will largely depend on how we evolve as a nation. Some sectors, including manufacturing and retail, will quickly transition to renewables. And while there may not be immediate cost savings (without government subsidy or support), this is an important step towards net-zero. Other sectors, including heavy transport, require more support.

Beyond public trains and buses, heavy transport plays a critical role in Australia’s local and export economies. Whether it’s the mining dump trucks ferrying minerals from the ground, or the trucks transporting food to our cities, heavy vehicles are essential to a functioning nation. So critical is the sector that a recent report from the Climate Council found the transport sector is Australia’s third-largest source of greenhouse gases, producing 17.5 percent of emissions.

The eco challenges for heavy transport 

While electric vehicles (EVs) are quickly becoming a dominant force in the consumer car market, heavy transport requires energy density that battery power is yet to solve adequately. There are three key challenges to overcome:

  1. Charging: batteries must be recharged, and Australia’s charging infrastructure is still limited, particularly in rural and mining areas
  2. Weight: batteries are heavy, which can compromise vehicle safety and performance
  3. Range: the relatively low range of EVs is a primary concern for heavy transport and its ability to operate effectively in a sparse country like Australia.

 

How hydrogen can be a solution 

Green hydrogen is fast becoming the industry’s solution as it shifts to lower emissions. This is perhaps why the NSW Government has set hydrogen fleet targets and trials. It is aiming to have 20% of its fleet made up of hydrogen vehicles by 2030. Such is the positive uptake of hydrogen that it is cost-competitive in a range of heavy transport applications, new government-commissioned analysis has found, and is predicted to become the cheapest of all sources of hydrogen by mid-century.

The Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), a federal government-run ‘green bank’, is already realising this potential, recently announcing it will finance five purpose-built, zero-emissions trucks and the construction of hydrogen production and refuelling infrastructure. CEFC’s hydrogen fuel cell electric trucks will complete a 30-kilometre trip as they move zinc ore from Townsville Port in Queensland to a metal refinery, where they will refuel with green hydrogen produced on-site. The initial five zero-emission trucks are expected to cut carbon dioxide by approximately 1,300 tonnes per year.

What does this mean for us?

Internationally, heavy transport operators are adopting hydrogen in applications where electrification is not feasible due to mileage, refuelling time and electrical infrastructure constraints. In Switzerland, for example, a coalition of fleet operators has deployed 50 Hyundai hydrogen trucks and plans to have 1,600 trucks in operation by 2025. There are numerous other examples across Europe and APAC.

Australia has a lot to learn.

The tests have begun, so we will be watching this space carefully to see how such projects roll-out.

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