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Hydrogen fuel network gathers steam

As fuel company Waitomo builds its nationwide network, it is selecting some sites for their suitability as hydrogen stops

Four of its new stations being built in the North Island this year will have hydrogen as a refuelling option provided by Taranaki-based Hiringa Refuelling New Zealand (HRNZ). Waitomo is actively looking for new South Island sites, says Waitomo Chief Operating Officer Simon Parham.

Billions of dollars are being invested globally to develop hydrogen fuel options for transport and New Zealand is among the early adopters of the technology.

Waitomo is working in partnership with HRNZ, which is leading the establishment of a hydrogen production and refueling network. HRNZ will own and operate the assets and partner with other companies to set up the necessary infrastructure.

HRNZ Head of New Business Ryan McDonald says, “Unless New Zealand is out there paving the way, we are just going to get forgotten about when it comes to zero emission transport options. We are a long way from the rest of the world.”

The first of 25 heavy HFCEV (hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles) trucks due to operate in New Zealand this year have landed. Later this year, they’ll be able to fill up at HRNZ pumps in Auckland, Tauranga, Hamilton and Palmerston North. South Island sites will be added to the network next year. Within five years HRNZ expects to be providing hydrogen (mainly for the heavy truck sector) from 24 refuelling sites scattered strategically along New Zealand’s main freight routes.

Ryan says that they have had great support from the heavy transport industry and government, but there’s been no shortage of challenges to being the first to take a hydrogen project of this scale through to the build phase in New Zealand.

“The challenging thing was to line up government, investors, customers, vendors, councils and partners, as they all had a part to play in reaching the final stages.

“We are forging a new trail here, so it was never going to be easy, but to reach the build phase last year and start ordering equipment and trucks was a real buzz for the team and has made it all worth it.”

Funding for the hydrogen refuelling network, and for the 25 heavy HFCEV, has come from a mix of private investment and government support.

Waitomo leading the way

Waitomo is moving into hydrogen without any government support. “We are using our own capital and see the investment as ‘hydrocarbon financing hydrogen’,” says Simon Parham.

Hydrogen production sites need more land than a standard fuel stop and getting the relevant consent can take time.

“But Hiringa Refuelling has done a lot of work and this includes educating the councils and providing all the safety analysis”, says Simon.

He says Waitomo hopes to use its early involvement in hydrogen to gain a market advantage over other brands.

“We are spending a lot of time and energy on making hydrogen available to the truck fleet.” Simon says the company has also started providing EV chargers; it has one at its Mystery Creek site in Waikato and plans another at its Ruakura flagship site, currently under construction. However, hydrogen is its major focus at present.

“I look forward to the day, perhaps in about 10 years, when we are building just a hydrogen fuel stop,” he says.

TR Group early adopter

Heavy transport leasing and fleet management company, TR Group, has bought 20 FCEV trucks from US and Europe manufacturer Hyzon, which will land in New Zealand in September. They are being leased by several different transport operators who will trial them for New Zealand conditions.

TR Group’s General Manager, Brendan King, said these early adopters know they have to get in the game early – or wait 10 or 12 years for the mainstream brands like Volvo or Daimler to bring right-hand-drive FCEVs to New Zealand.

Government support is helping get the trucks on the road, but they will still be more expensive to operate than diesel.

“The transport industry is pretty socially responsible. We have to start the transition to greener fuel somewhere, build the fleet and the fuel network and take the risk until it becomes financially viable. Everyone has skin in the game.

He says TR Group also has about 30 EV trucks in its fleet and is also trialling new technology to cut down on oil use and make fuel savings.

“If we are serious about reducing our impact on the environment, it is important that we embrace and seek to understand this technology and help develop it for New Zealand conditions, as well as helping to develop the support networks for it, such as service and repair expertise and the vital refuelling infrastructure. This can only be done with real- world use of this technology.”

Hyundai trials about to start

Meanwhile, the first of Hyundai New Zealand’s five hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric XCIENT trucks are also now in the country. They are being converted to RH drive and fitted with a body before being taken into private freight fleets to start hauling goods later this year.

Hyundai New Zealand General Manager Andy Sinclair says, “As a Kiwi-owned company, we are big believers of implementing alternative fuel technology here in New Zealand.”

The trial will provide insights into how the trucks fit into timetables, capacity, maintenance schedules, refueling, driveability and user-training specific to New Zealand.

A hydrogen-powered truck can save around 50 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year (equivalent of 80,000km on diesel fuel).

RUC review

A review of the Road User Charges regime includes looking at whether hydrogen fuelled trucks should be officially exempted from RUC. At the moment, only EVs charged from an external source of electricity are covered by the wording of the existing exemption.

Taking this step could help support and promote the uptake of new fuels. The Government’s discussion document suggests exemption, or reduced rates for a temporary period. In the meantime, TR Group (which will shortly own 20 Hyzon HCEV trucks) says their vehicles have an external power connection and will be exempt on that basis.

Flying on H2

Air New Zealand has joined forces with Airbus to investigate how hydrogen-powered aircraft could help bring the company’s emissions down to zero by 2050.

Air New Zealand will analyse how hydrogen aircraft would work within its domestic network while Airbus will look at aircraft performance requirements and ground operations information.

Air New Zealand Chief Executive Officer Greg Foran says the results should help the airline introduce low carbon solutions for its domestic flights in the next decade.

“New Zealand has a unique opportunity to be a world leader in the adoption of zero emissions aircraft, given the country's commitment to renewable energy which can be used to generate green hydrogen and our highly connected regional air network.

“At this stage, both hydrogen and battery electric aircraft are still on the table as potential options for our shorter domestic flights, along with sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) for long-haul operations.”

Airbus is currently looking at three concepts for hydrogen-powered aircraft, including turboprop, turbofan and blended wing options.