Could hydrogen replace diesel?
Hydrogen is being touted by global truck makers as the most likely clean fuel to replace diesel for long haul transport and plans are in place to roll out a hydrogen refuelling system in New Zealand.
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Of all the sectors where people see potential for a zero-emission hydrogen economy, it's transport that gets mentioned the most. It’s certainly the most visible. Transport makes up 40% of New Zealand’s fossil fuel use and there are already numerous hydrogen-powered cars and trucks in production around the world with many more in development.
Long haul heavy transport is the category where hydrogen fuel cell powertrains are seen as most logical. The sector is a big prize in our efforts to decarbonise. According to the Ministry of Transport, around 27% of New Zealand’s transport sector’s fossil fuel use comes from long haul, which is dominated by the diesel guzzling big rigs that carry massive payloads through the night, and then turn around to drive back again as soon as safety permits.
New initiatives driven by some of the world's leading truck makers suggest that a hydrogen-powered long haul transport sector is an idea finally gaining traction.
Most experts agree that current battery technology has major downsides for long haul heavy loads. Batteries are bulky and heavy, they take a long time to charge and don’t give vehicles sufficient range to compete as a long haul carrier.
The experts might agree about potential, but until recently the hydrogen trucking sector has been slow to take off. However, new initiatives driven by some of the world’s leading truck makers suggest that a hydrogen-powered long haul transport sector is an idea finally gaining momentum.
In May 2021, the world’s largest big truck maker Daimler said it aims to make long-haul fuel-cell trucks that can compete on cost with diesel by 2027. Daimler also announced it has projects underway with other transport companies to make the hydrogen future happen. The German giant has formed a joint venture with its fierce Northern European rival Volvo to develop better hydrogen fuel cell technology, and is working with Shell to build an initial 1,200 km corridor of hydrogen truck refuelling stations across Northern Europe from Rotterdam to Cologne.
In Switzerland, Hyundai is part of an ambitious consortium of Swiss companies that aims to have a nationwide fleet of 1,600 hydrogen-powered trucks on Swiss roads by 2025. The consortium’s goal is to build a value chain covering the production of green hydrogen from hydropower, a network of hydrogen filling stations and the service and maintenance of trucks. Hyundai is leasing the trucks to users in order to remove barriers to entry.
In New Zealand, the beginnings of a hydrogen heavy transport value chain are also beginning to emerge. Taranaki-based Hiringa Energy has announced a joint venture with fuel distributor Waitomo to create a network of hydrogen refuelling stations over the next two years. Hiringa also says it has agreed a deal with US hydrogen truck startup Hyzon Motors to import hydrogen-powered trucks to kick start zero emission long haul road transport here in New Zealand.
According to Hiringa and Hyzon, we could see the first hydrogen trucks in New Zealand sometime in the next two years.