Sir Stephen Tindall is an advocate for building a green hydrogen economy in New Zealand.

Sir Stephen Tindall is helping Emirates Team New Zealand build a hydrogen-powered chase boat for the next America's Cup. 

He believes the technology will be a ‘game changer’ for the global marine industry, but his ambitions for green hydrogen are even greater.  Tindall wants to see as much of New Zealand’s heavy transport as possible shift from fossil fuels to hydrogen as a matter of urgency.  

“If we keep using oil, what’s it going to be like for our grandkids and great-grandkids? They’ll be underwater.  So from a long term perspective, it’s the right thing to do.  Particularly for heavy transport, the big trucks, ferries, trains and all the rest,” Tindall says. 

He acknowledges the role of EVs in decarbonising the light passenger fleet, but says to make progress in energy-intensive sectors like heavy transport and high-heat industrial processes, a clean fuel such as green hydrogen is necessary for New Zealand to meet its climate goals.  

“There’s a huge amount of emissions coming from big energy consumers that we’ve got to tackle. The Climate Change Commission is saying that, and we’re not going to do it all with EVs so it’s urgent. Everything is urgent when it comes to climate change,” Tindall says.  

"We've got to get a mind shift to say, this is an imperative."

Tindall’s investments in green hydrogen include Hiringa, a Taranaki-based company that plans to put down its first filling stations next year to enable freight transport to begin shifting to hydrogen. Hiringa is also planning to convert wind power into hydrogen to make green urea for fertiliser, replacing imported urea produced from fossil fuels.  

Tindall says this will be welcome news for the agricultural sector, which is increasingly looking for smarter ways to lower its carbon footprint.  

“They’d love it because at the moment, they’re using urea that's coming in from overseas.  It's brown urea that comes from gas,” Tindall says.  

He believes shipping and aviation will also eventually move to hydrogen.  But despite the promising nature of his current projects, Tindall believes New Zealand should be moving much faster to lay the foundations of a domestic hydrogen economy.  

“Australia has already made green hydrogen a national priority.  They’re proposing regional hubs to supply hydrogen for domestic use and export, whereas New Zealand is still debating whether hydrogen is something we should seriously invest in. 

“We’re dragging our feet and we need some action.  I’ve been pushing as hard as I can, but we’re moving very, very slowly.  We've got to get a mind shift to say, this is an imperative.”

"Once you get critical mass, the prices start to fall."

One of the challenges, Tindall says, is the belief many people have that hydrogen won’t be viable for some time, so they’re not seeing the advantages.  

“For example, in the trucking field, it's really only been in the last 18 months that these big trucks have started to become manufactured.  

“It’s an early idea that hasn’t got the traction, so we’ve got to get a lot more people using hydrogen and saying this would be a great idea.  Seeing is believing,”  Tindall says.  

Just as the government’s feebate scheme is designed to give EV uptake a shot in the arm, Tindall believes intervention in the hydrogen space will also help to make the technology more realistic and affordable for New Zealanders.  

“You've got to begin to seed these things over with subsidies. But once you get critical mass, the prices start to fall. And you're killing two birds with one stone. You've reduced your emissions, and you're starting to get affordable technology.” 

"For me, it's an urgent thing and you've got to vote with your heart on this."

Tindall believes the revenue that exporting hydrogen creates will help to establish the infrastructure needed for domestic applications and uses, along with investment from international partners. 

“If we could make some money and sell it overseas, that would be good.  But at the end of the day, our responsibility is to our own nation and an overseas start may accelerate this outcome,” Tindall says. 

Hydrogen innovation is one area where New Zealand already has companies and scientists making advances. Tindall believes New Zealand can be a leading exporter.  One of these is AFCryo, a Christchurch company that has developed a membrane-free hydrogen electrolysis method that is already being exported to Ireland for use in oxidation plants. 

“In Auckland, there’s a technology being developed that could ostensibly reduce the cost of manufacturing hydrogen by a significant margin.  These are the kinds of R&D projects that are incredibly important for us, because we’ve managed to do things here that other people could never do,” Tindall says. 

When asked about concerns that hydrogen is still untested in many applications and significant investment in New Zealand relies on forecasts rather than existing markets, Tindall reiterates the urgency of a collective response to tackling climate change. 

“The point is we’ve got this climate change imperative.  And if you don’t break some eggs to get there, you’re never going to get there - climate change is a burning platform.  

“So for me, it’s an urgent thing, and you’ve got to vote with your heart on this,” Tindall says. 

Sir Stephen Tindall is a New Zealand based businessman, investor and philanthropist.

Sir Stephen was interviewed by the Southern Green Hydrogen team.