Australian startup H2X is banking on bringing automotive manufacturing back to Australia with hydrogen. After its Warrego ute was met with startling fanfare last week, PV magazine Australia caught up with the company’s corporate affairs specialist, Tony Blackie.
It wasn’t just our readers interested in the launch of Australian startup H2X’s Warrego ute – the company clocked $50 million in order requests within four days of its announcement (remember, the ute doesn’t even officially launch until November).
The Warrego was just the first in a suite of hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) the company is hoping to bring to market, which includes more light cars all the way through to agricultural vehicles. The company says its 200 orders on the Warrego have come from “several significant energy companies and a number of private buyers” in Australia and abroad, including the Netherlands, Germany, and Malaysia.
“It obviously shows a pretty incredible demand across the board for vehicles of this kind,” H2X corporate affairs specialist, Tony Blackie, told PV magazine Australia.
Based on the Ford Ranger, Blackie said the Warrego was something of a concept car – a demonstration that a hydrogen-powered twin cab ute could work.
It has undeniably drawn attention, though questions do remain around how relevant the technology will be for light vehicles and passenger cars given electric vehicles (EVs) are far more mature, making them cheaper and visible today. There is also the little snag of where to refuel a hydrogen car, seeing as there are currently just four green hydrogen refueling stations in Australia, not all of which (like Toyota’s Melbourne station) are even open to the public.
Another oft-cited catch is the fact you need to generate twice as much electricity to produce hydrogen as if you just straight up charged your car. Such questions don’t seem to phase H2X execs though.
In its suite of new models, Blackie said Australia can expect a number of other light vehicles like small vans to heavier vehicles and eventually tractors.
“Hydrogen fuel cell capabilities cover all motor vehicles,” he said, noting the horizons aren’t just limited to buses. Brendan Norman, the company’s CEO, has a vision for a range of vehicles to be available for a broad spectrum of uses, Blackie said.
In the short term, the company wants to develop close operations with hydrogen fuel capabilities, but in the longer term, it wants to service the agricultural industry. That is, it wants to enter the farm machinery market, with Blackie saying those conversations are already happening.
“And it’s not just vehicles, of course, there’s the generator set,” he added. Mobile hydrogen generators, he added, are also on the cards for H2X.
H2X’s ultimate ambition is to begin producing its own hydrogen fuel cells for its vehicles here in Australia, though the company is yet to start manufacturing on a larger scale.
So Why Hydrogen?
Well, the primary reason is hydrogen vehicles’ only emission is a clean puddle of water. So if you refuel with green hydrogen, that is hydrogen produced with an electrolyzer powered by renewable energy, the car has no carbon emissions. If the car is fuelled with blue or grey hydrogen created using fossil fuels, that’s an entirely different story. But the point is, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have the capacity to be super clean – yes, cleaner than purely electric vehicles.
Batteries are predominantly made from pretty toxic chemicals and Australia isn’t particularly good at recycling them, so a lot end up in landfills. Even if we and the rest of the world get better at recycling batteries though, properly reusing the materials they contain, we will still inevitably need to dig up virgin minerals to keep up with demand. Which makes hydrogen as a form of energy storage (fuel) superior in that department.
It remains to be seen whether it’s enough for hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles to displace EVs, but Australia is certainly banking big on hydrogen. As of March, Australia’s hydrogen project pipeline was triple the size of the next biggest, which belongs to Germany and the Netherlands.
Many have speculated about why Australia is so infatuated with hydrogen – perhaps it feels like home for our gas-export nation, perhaps it’s the fact hydrogen can rehouse our increasingly obsolete fossil fuels, who knows – but not everyone is persuaded hydrogen is the clean energy panacea it’s marketed as.
Australian-American inventor and entrepreneur Saul Griffith knows the hydrogen landscape “intimately” and is far from convinced. “I’m not at all bullish on hydrogen,” he said at the Clean Energy Council’s Its Electrifying webinar on Tuesday.
The sticking point for him, like many others, is how much energy hydrogen loses. He estimates about 25% is lost during electrolysis, compression loses a further 15%, and that’s before you even think about unloading and using the fuel. “I think Australia has a dangerous addiction to the hydrogen narrative and I think we need to be more realistic,” Griffith said.
To be fair, Australia isn’t alone in its hydrogen excitement. As Blackie explained when I asked about the reason for H2X’s many arms (H2X Australia, H2X global, H2X marine, and counting), he said the company’s operations have moved far quicker in some areas than others. The first cab off the rank? The Netherlands.
Australia can expect the company to launch its new hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle suite over the next 24 months.