Hydrogen was first formally presented as a credible alternative energy source in the early 1970s but never proved competitive at scale as an energy source – until now.
With worldwide demand for hydrogen set to increase substantially over the coming decades, driven by Japan’s decision to put imported hydrogen at the heart of its economy, Australia is positioning itself to lead the world on hydrogen production and exports.
Last year, the country announced it would develop a National Hydrogen Strategy, which will determine a coordinated way forward to maximise Australia’s competitive advantages, including becoming a major global hydrogen player.
A lot of activity is occurring at state level also, with the Governments of Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia currently developing their own state-based hydrogen strategies focussing on different parts of the hydrogen value chain based on their reflective strengths.
At the centre of this hydrogen vision is industry association Hydrogen Mobility Australia (HMA) who has given the hydrogen sector an industry voice into government.
“Hydrogen is no longer the ‘fuel of the future’ but rapidly heading towards mainstream adoption.”
Comprising of a collection of vehicle manufacturers, energy companies, infrastructure providers, research organisations and governments, HMA wants to create a hydrogen society for Australia built upon clean and renewable energy technology, including hydrogen-powered transport.
To achieve this, the organisation will work to accelerate the commercialisation of new hydrogen and fuel cell technologies across the entire hydrogen value chain, including production, export and storage for transport and stationary applications in Australia and overseas.
HMA’s CEO Claire Johnson (left) is convinced of the important role of hydrogen in the transport sector and regards herself as a passionate advocate for hydrogen and fuel cell technologies.
“Hydrogen is overcoming a critical juncture. It is no longer the ‘fuel of the future’ but rapidly heading towards mainstream adoption,” Johnson says in an exclusive interview with gasworld.
“The ideal conditions for a hydrogen society are starting to be realised, largely due to the falling costs of renewables, technological advancements in hydrogen production, and commitments from countries such as Japan to a hydrogen future just to name a few. Combined, they mean the economics of hydrogen are now stacking up and that hydrogen’s time has come.”
Johnson’s passion for hydrogen began when she was working for Toyota Australia in government relations. Whilst her main focus was securing government support to continue local vehicle manufacturing in Australia, in 2015 she got her first experience of a hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV).
“As part of our advocacy efforts, we imported a Toyota Mirai from Japan to showcase the vehicle with politicians and senior bureaucrats, and to start the conversation around hydrogen in transport,” she explains.
“After experiencing the vehicle and seeing the benefits, my interest in hydrogen grew and I left Toyota in early 2018 to come on board as CEO of HMA and officially launch the association. I consider myself fortunate to work in a role fully dedicated to advancing the hydrogen sector.”
Co-founded by car giants Hyundai and Toyota, who came together in 2015 to discuss how they could work together to establish a hydrogen mobility sector in Australia, HMA was established in February 2018.
It has since been joined by 23 other companies with interests across the entire hydrogen value chain, including: Air Liquide, BOC, BP, ITM Power, Nel and Siemens.
Membership of the association was previously by invitation, however in September 2018 HMA launched an open membership programme to ensure it continues to be reflective of the diverse sector it represents.
“We have since tripled our membership base,” Johnson enthuses. “I believe this rapid growth not only demonstrates the level of interest in hydrogen, but more importantly the size of opportunity it presents for Australia.”
Since its establishment just over 12 months ago, HMA has come a long way. It is recognised as the go to industry association by governments for all hydrogen related matters, including the provision of hydrogen expertise and advice.
“As a new sector, we have had a strong focus on educating policy makers on the technology, its benefits and the opportunity. Now that the level of understanding is starting to grow, we have shifted the conversation to focus on getting the policy settings right to realise this opportunity,” Johnson says.
This has been seen most recently through the National Hydrogen Strategy, of which HMA is a partner in the delivery of a transport kick-starter project.
“I believe this rapid growth not only demonstrates the level of interest in hydrogen, but more importantly the size of opportunity it presents for Australia.”
Led by Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr. Alan Finkel, and approved by the COAG Energy Council, the strategy will focus on policies and measures to enable the domestic use of hydrogen in areas including transport and refuelling infrastructure, decarbonisation of the gas supply, interaction with electricity systems, energy storage, industrial processes as well as the export of hydrogen and its carriers.
To be developed throughout 2019 and implemented from 2020, the final outcome will take the shape of a roadmap outlining priority areas and actions required to develop a domestic and export hydrogen sector for Australia.
“The decision to develop a National Hydrogen Strategy is a logical and pragmatic way forward for Australia to take advantage of the ever-building transition to clean hydrogen around the world, including hydrogen-powered transport,” Johnson tells gasworld.
“As a central pillar of the world’s energy transition, hydrogen is anticipated to create thousands of jobs for Australians, increase our export capacity and build our economy, while fuelling a cleaner future.”
“The transport kick-starter project will scope the potential to build hydrogen refuelling stations in every Australian state and territory, with a focus on heavy transport. We’re excited to work with the government on this important piece of work that will outline a roadmap for the deployment of vehicles and infrastructure across the country.”
To support this work, HMA led a successful push with Standards Australia to upgrade its participation on the relevant ISO Technical Committee and start the process of mirroring international standards for areas including hydrogen refuelling stations.
The organisation has also put hydrogen FCEVs officially on the government’s radar.
“After extensive engagement with all levels of government throughout 2018, we are starting to gain some positive traction with decision makers and our key messages are resonating well – the main one being that FCEVs and BEVs both have different but complementary characteristics, and have an equally important role to play in reducing transport emissions,” Johnson explains.
“We are therefore requesting that governments be technology agnostic in their policy setting and support the range of zero emission vehicles available, and then let the market decide its preference based on lifestyle, usage and so forth.”
HMA has a strategic focus on the transport sector with an objective of supporting the development of a refuelling infrastructure network across Australia to support the volume introduction vehicles.
Australia currently has two hydrogen refuelling stations in operation with another two in progress. Johnson anticipates further announcements in the coming months.
A high level of activity has been seen in the power-to-gas space, with three HMA members (Australian Gas Infrastructure Group, ATCO and Jemena) all announcing electrolyser projects in the last 12 months. Each of which is currently in progress.
From an export perspective, the Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain project, spearheaded by a Japanese-led consortium, aims to establish a hydrogen supply chain between Victoria and Japan.
The $500m world-first initiative, which was approved by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) last week (14th Feb) will build a pilot plant in the Latrobe Valley to produce hydrogen from Australian brown coal for export to Japan. Construction is due to commence soon.
The trial will run for a limited duration of 12 months starting in mid-2020 and the project partners hope it will put Australia and Japan at the forefront of hydrogen technologies.
“Due to the very nature of hydrogen being the ultimate interconnector of previously disparate sectors, we see that the transport conversation is linked to the gas network conversation which is in turn linked to the export conversation and so forth. These discussions cannot be had in isolation,” Johnson says.
“Infrastructure built to serve these opportunities can be leveraged for multiple purposes and that’s why, for instance, the gas injection projects announced by our members Australian Gas Infrastructure Group, ATCO and Jemena present clear opportunities for leveraging and co-locating refuelling infrastructure. This is what we are actively exploring now – how do we optimise existing infrastructure investments for multi-purpose hydrogen use.”
HMA’s message into government is that while export presents a potentially enormous opportunity for Australia, supporting domestic focussed projects in areas such as transport is essential in the short to medium if we are to build local capability and start the process of scaling up gradually over time.
Challenges and the future
One of the biggest challenges Johnson sees Australia facing in the creation of a domestic and export hydrogen sector is achieving scale.
“We need scale to bring down costs and lay the foundation to build upon for an export sector in the future,” she explains. “Government-industry collaboration is key to realising commercial scale projects and so we are pleased to see Australian governments recognise this in their hydrogen commitments to date.”
More specifically from a transport perspective, HMA has been urging the federal government to introduce a vehicle emissions standard.
“With no CO2 standard currently in place, such a measure would accelerate the supply of low emission vehicles, such as FCEVs to Australia and help to enable the market for hydrogen. This lever alone would make a significant difference to the composition of Australia’s new vehicle fleet benefiting FCEVs,” she tells gasworld.
2019 looks set to be a busy year for HMA. The association is currently working closely with governments to create a conducive policy and regulatory environment for hydrogen and fuel cell technologies in Australia to thrive.
“Our focus is on getting the standards, funding programmes, and regulations in place so that our members and other industry participants can grow their hydrogen business while minimising risk and instilling confidence in the future of the sector,” Johnson says.
“Our sector currently enjoys strong bipartisan support, so we know that whatever the outcome of the upcoming federal election, hydrogen will continue to be a priority area and therefore we expect a very busy year ahead with some significant progress.”