It wasn’t just our readers who were interested in the recent launch of Australian startup H2X’s Warrego pickup truck – the company clocked AUD 50 million ($36.8 million) of order requests within four days of its announcement – and remember, the truck doesn’t even officially launch until November.
The Warrego was just the first in a suite of hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) that the company plans to bring to market, including more light cars and agricultural vehicles. The company says its 200 orders for 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 that the Warrego is something of a concept car – a demonstration that a hydrogen-powered twin cab pickup truck could work.
It has undeniably drawn attention, but questions do remain around how relevant the technology will be for light vehicles and passenger cars, given that 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, 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 catch is the fact that you need to generate twice as much electricity to produce hydrogen than if you just straight up charged your car. Such questions don’t seem to phase H2X execs, however. In its suite of new models, Blackie said that 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 that the horizon is not 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 to 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 that those conversations are already happening.
“And it’s not just vehicles of course, there’s the generator set,” he added, noting that mobile hydrogen generators are also in the cards for H2X.
H2X’s ultimate ambition is to begin producing its own hydrogen fuel cells for its vehicles in Australia, but the company has 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 powered with blue or gray 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 mainly made from pretty toxic chemicals and Australia isn’t particularly good at recycling them, so a lot end up in landfill. Even as the world gets better at recycling batteries, 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 sense.
It remains to be seen whether that’s enough for hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles to displace EVs, but Australia is certainly banking big on hydrogen. As of March, the country's hydrogen project pipeline was triple the size of the next biggest, which belong 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, or perhaps it’s the fact hydrogen can rehouse our increasingly obsolete fossil fuels. But not everyone is convinced that hydrogen is the clean energy panacea it has been 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 “It’s Electrifying” webinar on Tuesday.
The sticking point for him, like many others, is how much energy hydrogen loses. He estimates that about 25% is lost during electrolysis, while 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,” said Griffith.
H2X aims to launch its new hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle suite in Australia within the next 24 months.
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