Are solar-powered fuel cell vehicles the future of affordable transport?

Solar-to-hydrogen fuels could already be cheaper at the pump than petrol in regional Australia, according to Clean Energy Finance Corporation CEO Oliver Yeats – all that is missing are the hydrogen fuel cell cars and a refuelling network.

And Yates would like to fix that. “I’m a self-proclaimed hydrogen junkie,” he quipped in a speech to 6th World Hydrogen Technologies Conference in Sydney this week. That was opposed to the overall Australian economy, which he said was a “carbon junkie” and needed to drop its habit of heavy emissions.

Yates has a vision of having hydrogen fuels follow the NBN network around Australia. This, he says, would provide power for the telecoms towers, and also provide a network of fuelling stations that could be used by commercial and heavy vehicles – utes, trucks, buses and even tractors – and at the distances required in regional Australia.

“There is an ability for hydrogen to be a piggy back technology – with one investment, Australia can solve two problems. Can we think that far ahead?”

Yates said that an array of solar panels, with an electrolyser to transform the electricity into hydrogen (just add water and bottle the left over pure oxygen) might be able to deliver fuel at around $1.25 a litre. In areas such as Mt Isa, where fuel had to be trucked vast distances, petrol prices were above $1.40. In other areas, even more.

Yates said that potentially in some remote areas, it would be possible to cut out the costly transportation of fuels. “We have got significant solar resources, and significant wind resources,” Yates said.

“We like the hydrogen space; it is versatile, transportable and flexible and economic in regional Australia right now. It is a very exiting market.”

Yates said that he was also interested in encouraged fleets of fuel cell vehicles, which he said could lower emissions and increase the uptake of renewable energy, as well as increase energy security. Hydrogen had the advantage of being able to generate on site (with solar), store the energy onsite, and provide refuelling on site.

The big challenge was to get the FCVs – fuel cell vehicles – to justify the expense in refuelling infrastructure.

Top image: Toyota Mirai fuel cell vehicle. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons, via Wikipedia.

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Giles Parkinson