As businesses look to reduce their carbon footprints, one company is exploring a multi-million-dollar project to transport freight between South Australia and Victoria with zero emissions.

Key points:

  • Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have a very small market share in Australia
  • A lack of refuelling stations is hindering their take-up among transport companies
  • One local logging company has decided to trial an electric truck to cut emissions

Countrywide Hydrogen has launched a feasibility study into the construction of a “Hydrogen HyWay” between Adelaide and Melbourne. 

The study includes identifying sites for green hydrogen production and fuelling facilities, with Portland and Warrnambool in Victoria’s south-west, and Mount Gambier in South Australia’s south-east, identified as potential locations.

Countrywide Hydrogen managing director Geoff Drucker said the facilities would cost about $35 million and be completed by early 2027.

“If we look at what the outcomes are that we’re trying to achieve and how best to do that with minimum use of anything that’s going to be harmful to the environment, we’re on the right path,” he said.

A lack of fuelling stations has put a brake on hydrogen vehicle take-up.(Supplied: Countrywide Hydrogen)

What are fuel cells?

University of Technology Sydney’s Institute for Sustainable Futures research director Scott Dwyer said hydrogen fuel cell vehicles worked similarly to battery electric vehicles.

“They use hydrogen fuel which then powers the fuel cell which then creates electricity which drives the wheels of the car,” Dr Dwyer said.

“It’s similar, but the advantages — and why certain companies are pursuing hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles as opposed to pure electric vehicles — is that you can refill them faster in a much more similar way that you refuel your petrol or diesel-powered car.”

But demand for hydrogen fuel is low in Australia — Mr Drucker estimates there are about 20 hydrogen cars across the country due to a lack of refuelling stations.

Dr Dwyer said hydrogen-powered vehicles had struggled to take hold, finding it difficult to compete with battery electric vehicles.

“There was a lot of hope that hydrogen would be able to be a technology that heavy vehicles would be able to use to decarbonise that sector,” he said.

“What we’re actually seeing is a number of automotive companies looking at electrifying trucks.”

Wendy Fennell with Fennell Forestry’s electric truck.(ABC South East SA: Sam Bradbrook)

Industry looks forward

Compton-based logging business Fennell Forestry is nine months into a two-year trial using an electric truck to transport logs from plantations to mills.

Managing director Wendy Fennell said the company was investigating ways to meet emissions reduction targets set by government and corporate bodies.

“Australia’s a long way behind the rest of the world and we’re affected both indirectly and directly by international standards, whether it’s the boards that run the companies that we work for or it’s the equipment manufacturers,” she said.

While Ms Fennell said the trial had been going well, there were hurdles including battery weight, a shortage of charging infrastructure and a lack of policy and regulations.

She said the economics and operational performance would determine what sort of fuels the trucking industry used in the future.

“There’s still a lot to work through and, considering we’re about to move into 2024, 2030 is not far away.”

Countrywide Hydrogen managing director Geoff Drucker.(Supplied: Countrywide Hydrogen)

Highway to opportunities

Mr Drucker said the HyWay proposal had drawn interest from freight companies, particularly in the timber and dairy industries, whose customers were looking to meet 2030 emissions targets.

The feasibility study would also look at other opportunities, including blending green hydrogen into natural gas networks and transitioning rubbish truck fleets to hydrogen.

“[Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles] have got enormous torque and pulling power, and the other massive benefit is that with battery electric vehicles, the batteries weigh an enormous amount,” he said.

“When it comes to trucks like semi-trailers or rigid trucks or waste collection trucks … they can’t afford to lose a lot of that weight because it’s taken up with the battery, so fuel cell vehicles will be preferred for anything going long distances.”

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