Get on the Hydro Bus

Hydrogen-fuelled buses will be seen on Adelaide’s roads before 2020, as part of a new three-year trial powered by the State Government’s ambitions to clean up its transport fleet and build a new export industry.

Expressions of interest for the $9 million trial covering six buses closed on October 9, after which short-listed parties were invited to tender for the project.

A site at Mile End South, currently being developed as an interpeak bus stabling facility, could also host the fuelling station, according to tender documents released by the SA Government. The fuel station is the first step in long-term plans to build an export industry that feeds into anticipated growing demand for hydrogen from overseas, particularly South Korea and Japan. A hydrogen roadmap was released in September, also calling for proposals for projects under a $150 million renewable technology fund by October 23.

The bus trial will see the six vehicles powered by electricity from an on-board fuel cell stack, fuelled by hydrogen gas.

One of the tender conditions is for the gas to be produced through electrolysis – a process of using electricity to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen – using South Australian renewable energy sources.

Several other states across Australia are trying to go green with hydrogen. A Victorian council – Moreland – is undertaking a $9 million effort to run 12 of its 18 garbage trucks on hydrogen by early 2020, with plans to establish a hydrogen fuelling station by late 2019.

The ACT Government has earmarked $180 million for hydrogen projects, including a fleet of cars and a refuelling station. WA completed a three-year trial in 2007 that saw three hydrogen fuel cell Transperth buses cover more than 260,000km and carry more than 330,000 passengers during that time. High costs and the lack of ability to produce and distribute sufficient low-cost, emissions-free hydrogen were some of the challenges back then. New technology improvements, including a CSIRO trial that provides Australia with a key export advantage, the focus on clean green environments, the need for energy security and the potential export demand, are favouring investment in hydrogen.

In May, CSIRO announced a two-year trial to test the commercial potential of a thin metal membrane it has developed that allows hydrogen to be transported in the form of ammonia and then reconverted back to hydrogen at the point of use. The trial is backed by Toyota Australia and Hyundai, which have imported some fuel cell-powered cars here for demonstration purposes.

Australia does not have any fuel-cell cars for sale yet, although these are manufactured globally for the US, which has hydrogen refuelling stations.

Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis says he hopes people will drive across the state in a hydrogen-fuelled vehicle, topping up at a statewide network of refuelling stations within a decade. “If we move now, South Australia can lead the nation in the transition to a clean, safe and sustainable hydrogen economy,” Mr Koutsantonis says.


OTHER HYDROGEN FUEL CELL PILOTS AROUND AUSTRALIA


WA – Perth (2004-2007)

A $10m trial involved three hydrogen fuel cell buses in the Transperth fleet, operated by Path Transit, and covered more than 260,000km and carried more than 330,000 passengers during that time.

Perth was the only southern hemisphere participant in the international trial, along with Hamburg, Stuttgart, Luxembourg, Stockholm, London, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Reykjavik, Madrid, Porto and Beijing.

Victoria – Moreland

The $10 million project, announced in May, will see 12 of the council’s 18 trucks run on hydrogen fuel cells by 2020. Hydrogen utility company H2U and international vehicle manufacturer CNH Industrial are set to develop the hydrogen fuel cell trucks. The renewable hydrogen will be generated using electrolysis and a mix of storm water harvesting and solar generation, as well as power purchased from wind farms.

ACT – Canberra

Neoen and Megawatt Capital (developers of the Hornsdale Wind Farm) will invest $55 million in partnership with Siemens and Hyundai to establish a 1.25MW hydrogen electrolyser in Canberra, which converts electricity to hydrogen. The project includes a refuelling station and service centre and an initial fleet of 20 hydrogen-fuelled cars, including a technical support and research program. It’s part of the Government’s $180 million hydrogen plan.

SHOWCASING THE FUTURE

US renewable energy company SolarReserve has built the $1 billion Crescent Dunes solar-thermal plant in the Nevada desert. The plant features 10,000 large mirrors which focus light to the top of a 195m tower to heat the salt, which is used to generate steam and produce electricity. The company plans to begin construction on a similar plant in Port Augusta in February 2018.