Are there any hydrogen-powered vehicles built here?
Earlier this year, new Australian automotive company H2X announced it will produce hydrogen-powered heavy and industrial vehicles as well as a hydrogen-powered SUV in Port Kembla, New South Wales. The Snowy medium SUV is expected to go on sale in 2022-23 with an anticipated driving range of about 650 kilometres.
Are hydrogen cars common overseas?
Manufacturers sell hydrogen vehicles in Japan, South Korea, Europe and parts of the US, but sales are low compared with battery electric vehicles. The biggest market for hydrogen vehicles is California, where just 8500 have been sold, compared with half a million battery electric vehicles. Chinese buyers have snapped up 7000 hydrogen-powered cars, compared with four million battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids.
How do you refuel hydrogen-powered vehicles?
Hydrogen refuelling stations can be standalone sites like battery electric vehicle charging stations, or they can sit within a conventional petrol station. Hydrogen fuel pumps look similar to public electric vehicle chargers.
Currently, there is just one permanent hydrogen refuelling station in Australia – at Hyundai's Sydney headquarters. Toyota has a mobile refuelling pump for its fleet of Mirais, but the company is currently building a $7.4 million Hydrogen Centre at its former manufacturing site in Altona which will have a refuelling station.
Australia’s first public hydrogen refuelling station is due to open in Canberra before the end of the year to service the fleet of Nexos. The partnership between the ACT government, ActewAGL and renewable energy developer Neoen will see hydrogen created onsite by electrolysis, using town water and electricity from the grid, produced from 100 per cent renewable energy sources.
More public refuelling stations are planned for Sydney, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania.
Is hydrogen technology better suited to heavy vehicles?
Hydrogen is seen by many industry figures as a more logical fit for heavy-commercial vehicles and transport. Hyundai Australia Senior Manager of Future Mobility and Government Relations Scott Nargar predicts that everything that runs on petrol today will be battery electric powered in the future while everything that is diesel-powered today will one day be hydrogen-powered. So most passenger cars and SUVs will eventually be battery electric powered, while light and heavy commercial vehicles will run on hydrogen. Hyundai, Toyota/Hino, Kenworth, Daimler/Volvo and US start-up Nikola are all in various stages of hydrogen truck development.
Scott explains that hydrogen fuel cells lend themselves better to powering heavy loads. “If you’re pulling large masses in trucks and buses, you want them refuelled quickly. A hydrogen bus will refuel with 50 kilograms of hydrogen in 10 minutes. An electric bus will take a lot longer with a charger. Also, batteries take up a lot of weight and room. They say it takes seven tonnes of batteries in a truck to be able to do what a normal truck does.”
How much do hydrogen-powered vehicles cost and are they worth the money?
This is still a bit of an unknown given there is no pricing available for the Mirai or Nexo. Both models retail for about £66,000 in the United Kingdom and US$66,000 in the United States, which equates to A$118,000 and A$84,000 respectively.
Toyota has yet to announce how much it will cost to refuel at its upcoming station and ActewAGL says the long-term operating costs of hydrogen refuelling stations will be one of the key findings of the Canberra project.
In the US, it costs about US$16 per kilogram (A$23) to refuel a hydrogen-powered car, which equates to about A$138 to fill up the Nexo’s 6.3-kilogram tank. That’s quite a bit more than recharging a conventional battery-powered electric vehicle (up to $25 at a public charging station for a Hyundai Kona Electric) or refuelling a Santa Fe petrol large SUV (about $85).
Of course, prices would come down if hydrogen takes off and the vehicles become more popular. A study by the California Energy Commission found that hydrogen prices could drop to about the same price as petrol by 2025.