An announcement in August 2021 said that green hydrogen is coming to the NSW transport sector.
Well, the availability of it is. But a steady supply will also mean transport operators at least have the option of using it when they update the buses and trucks in their fleets.
A new agreement has been signed between energy infrastructure company Jemena and gas supply company Coregas.
"Under the new agreement, Jemena will produce and supply green hydrogen from its Western Sydney plant for use by transport and industrial customers from early 2022. This is the first time the New South Wales transport industry will have access to green hydrogen," a statement from Jemena said.
The reason they make the distinction about green hydrogen is the only way it can be considered green is if it was produced by a process called electrolysis, and the electricity for that process was produced by some form of renewable energy like wind or solar.
When it's used in a fuel cell to produce electricity in a vehicle, the only emission is gaseous H2O (water vapour), so no problems there when it comes to the air that we need to breathe just to keep on living.
"The green hydrogen will be produced at Jemena's $15 million Western Sydney Green Gas Project. Co-funded by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), the Power-to-Gas project is converting renewable electricity to hydrogen gas which can be blended and stored in Jemena's gas distribution network to supply New South Wales homes and businesses," the statement said.
So they do specify renewable electricity (specifically, it's wind and solar sources in other locations), which is great because otherwise NSW still burns an astonishing amount of coal for its electricity production (about 80 percent of the electricity used in NSW according to fairly recent figures).
The plant is located in Horsley Park, and it uses a 500 kilowatt electrolyser purchased from Belgium-Canadian firm Hydrogenics. And as the quote above indicates, aside from the co-funding from ARENA the other thing making the project viable is their integration of hydrogen into the domestic gas they supply to partially replace the fossil sources currently in use there.
I said that for a few reasons. First, it's certainly more convenient to refill a hydrogen tank than to recharge a battery.
"Hydrogen fuel cells are particularly well suited to long distance heavy haulage trucking requirements based on their comparatively light weight and fast refuelling times which can be just a matter of minutes," said Jemena's general manager for renewable gas, Gabrielle Sycamore.
Secondly, for any size of vehicle, purchasers can only really buy what is available. You can have something custom made, sure, but given the cost of a battery-electric conversion that almost never makes financial sense. And while there are certainly battery powered, and battery-supplemented vehicles of various sizes available, hydrogen fuel cells seem to be gaining more prominence around the world as manufacturers make them available in vehicles of various sizes.
Thirdly, it's way easier for governments to charge for road usage through taxing a fuel by volume or weight than it is by kilowatt hours (people whinge about any tax, but the finances for road infrastructure need to come from multiple sources, and there's already an annual $23.8 billion shortfall compared to what is collected from road users now).
One other difference Ms Sycamore hinted at, and most noticeable in light vehicles, is batteries are also quite heavy and don't get any lighter as the charge level comes down.
Batteries also require various materials to be mined and shipped long distances to make them in the first place. Recycling them then requires an industry all of its own, and while that could present an economic opportunity for a while that also means there's not many places around the world that can do it at all, let alone at scale. So I still think hydrogen is where we are actually heading.