Hydrogen-powered cars on the horizon after an Australian-first trial

Mae Love
August 11, 2018

The vehicles' developers hope this is a sign of things to come for sustainably powered transport in Australia. The membrane is a modular unit that can be installed at a refuelling station.

They hydrogen was produced in Queensland using CSIRO's membrane technology.

CSIRO Principal Research Scientist, Michael Dolan stated that it was an extremely enthusiastic day for a project that was under development for so long and is now heading toward commercial deployment.

This means that the transportation and storage of hydrogen - now a complex and relatively expensive process - is simplified, allowing bulk hydrogen to be transported economically and efficiently in the form of liquid ammonia, according to the CSIRO. He further stated that CSIRO is the first entity which successfully showcased that pure hydrogen can be extracted from ammonia, and can be deemed as carbon-free fuel.

For the uninitiated, the technology, while blocking all other gases extracts highly pure hydrogen from ammonia.

Major automotive players Hyundai and Toyota have invested millions of dollars in producing hydrogen-powered cars and other vehicles, and provided the test vehicles for this trial: the Toyota Mirai and Hyundai Nexo.

Hyundai spokesman Scott Nargar told the ABC this trial was a massive step for Australia's hydrogen-powered auto market. Toyota spokesman Matthew Macleod agreed, and said it was particularly exciting because it addressed some key challenges for hydrogen power.

Fuel cell vehicles have a few advantages over electric cars.

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Hydrogen-powered cars also have more distance range - about 800 km compared to between 160-500 km for electric cars.

The leader of the program named David Harris claims that Australia is rich of renewable energy sources which can be used to generate hydrogen.

However costs can be prohibitive to wider uptake, as most retail for about $80,000.

In addition to its membrane technology, the CSIRO is applying its expertise to all stages of the hydrogen technology chain (including solar photovoltaics, solar thermal, grid management, water electrolysis, ammonia synthesis, direct ammonia utilisation via combustion and/or fuel cells, as well as hydrogen production).

But auto manufacturers have told the ABC one of the main barriers to the uptake of hydrogen cars is the current absence of refuelling stations. This development may open up massive export opportunities, claim sources.

Liquid hydrogen must be contained at incredibly high pressure or maintained at very low temperatures by complex cryogenic systems.

Dr Marshall is excited by the prospect of a growing global market for clean hydrogen, and the potential for a national renewable hydrogen export industry, to benefit Australia.

The initial concept-proving process will now be scaled up for larger demonstrations by the CSIRO both in Australia and overseas.

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