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Hydrogen on the horizon

Kiwis will see the country’s first hydrogen fuel cell EV freight trucks on the road early next year, fuelled by New Zealand-made hydrogen.

Taranaki-based Hiringa Energy is well underway with its plan to establish a green, scalable, hydrogen production and refuelling network across New Zealand’s main trucking routes.

Hiringa has amassed a range of partners, including Waitomo (fuel stations), TIL Group (freight operator), TR Group (truck leasing company), Hyundai and Hyzon (Netherlands FCEV truck manufacturer) to help New Zealand de-carbonise its heavy transport fleet. The Government’s Infrastructure Reference Group has provisionally approved a crucial $20 million investment in the network and the early fleets in 2020 and is likely to provide further support to the zero-emission technology and early users of the fuel.

Hiringa Energy Chief Executive Officer Andrew Clennett says green hydrogen is the most practical solution for decarbonising high-use heavy transport. “Further debate on electric versus hydrogen just delays action. Batteries and hydrogen technologies each have their part to play. Some of the trucks are doing big kilometres - running up to 22 hours a day. They don’t have time to stop and recharge.
Filling up with hydrogen takes just a few minutes. To fast-charge a heavy truck would also require about the same amount of electricity as it takes to run thousands of homes. Batteries are also heavy and reduce the amount of payload these big trucks can carry.

“Diesel is the competing fuel, not batteries.”

Fuel stops

The first hydrogen production and refueling facilities will open before June next year at Waitomo service stations in South Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga and Palmerston North. Four more (including one in the South Island) are planned for later next year.
A total of 24 are due to be online by the end of 2025, with as many as 100 operating by 2030.

The hydrogen production units are built to fit inside a shipping container, with another alongside for compressing and chilling the gas. “It is a very small footprint.”

Not all sites will be suitable for on-site fuel production, and these will receive their deliveries by tanker. Ultimately, these tankers will themselves be running on hydrogen.

The company sees the potential for production and fuel stops at industrial, commercial and logistics hubs, dairy factories, ports and airports.

Andrew says, “Some of the refuelling stations to have hydrogen production on-site will be positioned close to potential renewable energy supplies (solar, wind, hydro). Those using electricity will make the most of off-peak periods to reduce costs and manage the load on the grid.”

Progress plans

Andrew expects it could take less than 10 years for the frontline freight fleet to transition to hydrogen - if the Government pulls out all the stops. Incentives and penalties are increasing around the world to encourage emission reductions and he expects measures here to mirror those in other countries. “This includes higher taxes on fossil fuels, and more incentives to use hydrogen and biofuels.”

He and others in the green energy sector expect the tipping point to come when the costs become comparative or better than established technology. Investment also needs to shift.

“Exploration for new wells is very expensive. One company sunk two dry wells offshore in New Zealand last year. That same amount of money would pay for a large part of this country’s hydrogen infrastructure and supply,” he says.

“Overall costs for the technology, vehicles and fuel will reduce each year as production volumes increase. With the Government’s support, the fuel and trucking early adopters can start making the switch now and make it pay for them.”

However, he predicts it will be another five or six years before hydrogen fuel costs about the same as diesel.

“Commercial rates for diesel are much lower than you see on the pump price board.”

Vital partnerships

Investors, suppliers, and innovators are supporting Hiringa Energy’s vision. Among them is New Zealand transport lease company TR Group, which has joined with Hiringa to negotiate a deal with Netherlands-based hydrogen fuel cell EV truck manufacturer Hyzon to supply 1,500 to New Zealand over the next few years.

The trucks will be leased by TR Group to various transport companies including TIL Logistics Group, one of the largest freight companies in New Zealand.

TIL Logistics Chief Executive Officer Alan Pearson says his company will be leasing two of the first few HCEV trucks that will arrive later this year. He’s happy to be spearheading the new technology.

“We run about 1,000 trucks and use about 32 million litres of diesel each year. If we don’t help with the development of hydrogen fuel, then who? We see it as our social responsibility to help reduce carbon emissions.”

Alan says their trial of the HFCEV trucks will reveal how much can be saved on maintenance, although this won’t make up for the early higher costs of leasing the vehicles and using hydrogen fuel. “However, there will come a tipping point when the costs are competitive with diesel.”

“With demand for freight expected to increase by 33 percent in the next decade, the industry needs to start the transition now to reduce its carbon impact.”

Hiringa Energy has also joined forces with Ballance Agri-Nutrients in Taranaki. Together they are developing a windfarm that will provide hydrogen energy to Ballance's ammonia urea plant in Kapuni. Excess hydrogen will be used by the trucking network.

Final words

Andrew Clennett says he and his team are passionate about what they do and to reducing the carbon emissions that are fuelling climate change.

FACT:

A long distance freight truck produces 62 tonnes of CO2 each year (80,000km or 124 trips between Wellington and Auckland). Heavy freight trucks produce 25 percent of New Zealand’s transport emissions.