From left: NZ Post CEO David Walsh, Energy Minister Megan Woods and Hyundai NZ CEO Andy Sinclair. Photo / Supplied
There was a glimpse of our possible clean, quiet freight future as Hyundai revealed its first local hydrogen fuel cell truck customer: NZ Post.
It comes at a time when there are signs the technology
could move beyond its PR, showpony stage and become a genuine alternative to diesel – and, on the green side of the fence, to lithium-ion battery-powered vehicles.
The “Xcient” was handed to the state-owned enterprise at a ceremony this evening, with Energy Minister Megan Wood – whose Government is helping to pay for the vehicle – on hand.
NZ Post hopes to have the truck on the road by September – initially yoked to short runs around Auckland, because the city is home to NZ’s only hydrogen fuelling station – but it should be doing North Island-wide runs by the end of the year.
Hyundai NZ chief executive Andy Sinclair said it’s possible that 10 per cent of his heavy vehicle sales will be hydrogen within three years.
The Xcient will weigh 40 tonnes with a full load, and will take as little as eight minutes to refuel – a key operational selling point over lithium-ion battery-powered electric trucks.
Its range is 400km, and the Xcient has a fuel capacity of 31kg of hydrogen – meaning that at around $25 per kg of H2 used for the fuel cell that powers its 350kW electric motor, it will cost around $775 for a fill (it would cost around $450 to get the same range from a diesel heavy truck, assuming around 40 litres per 100km).
As with all hydrogen vehicles, the only emissions produced by the quiet-running Xcient will be dribbles of water out of its exhaust.
At the other end of the delivery food chain, NZ Post already runs a fleet of 400 (occasionally temperamental) electric Paxsers buggies for posties. Now it’s exploring options for its heavier vehicles as it heads toward its target of being carbon-neutral by 2030 – which could include EV trucks or a further foray into hydrogen (notably, Fonterra also showcased its first “E-Tanker” again today underlining both that a major shift is underway – and that we’re not quite sure in which direction it will head).
“We would want to make sure the truck is working and operating as it’s meant to before we committed to investing in future hydrogen trucks,” NZ Post CEO David Walsh told the Herald.
Neither Hyundai nor NZ Post would put a price on NZ Post’s truck, or running costs, and Hyundai has played its cards close to its chest worldwide for Xcient.
We do know that Crown agency EECA earlier gave Hyundai NZ $500,000 toward the purchase and deployment of five Xcients. (A second is in the country, being fitted out for Hyundai’s second, as-yet-unnamed customer. Three others should be here by year’s end).
And indications are the EECA money would pay for about half a truck.
Southland-based transport group HW Richardson (HWR), which is currently assessing its hydrogen options, recently said a hydrogen heavy truck would cost it $1.2m; an electric model would be $800,000 and the diesel equivalent $300,000.
The idea is that lower maintenance costs, and, eventually, cheaper fuel will leave trucking companies ahead as they work their capital hard.
“The knowledge and support network that will be established with these first five trucks will make it possible for 10 per cent of new heavy vehicles to be hydrogen-powered within three years. Hyundai aims to have an entire line-up of FCEV [Fuel Cell Electric] commercial vehicles by 2028,” Hyundai NZ’s Sinclair said.
Hyundai already has 41 Xcients on the road in Switzerland – home to several of its technology partners in the pilot. It hopes to deliver 1600 by 2025.
Ports of Auckland installed our first hydrogen refuelling station last year, in partnership with Japanese conglomerate Obayashi, which took over its running on July 1.
The lone refueller is why NZ Post’s hydrogen truck will be yoked to our largest city.
But more refuelling stations are on the way.
Hiringa Energy, a New Plymouth startup run by former Todd Energy executive Andrew Clennett and its Japanese partner Mitsui, is spending $50m (including $19m in Government loans) to build four hydrogen refuelling stations across the North Island – in South Auckland, Tauranga, Hamilton and Palmerston North – which are due to open this year.
The startup plans to expand its network to the South Island through 2023, and will have more than 24 stations across the country in the next four to five years.
Hiringa has also received $6m in Government funding to import 20 hydrogen trucks from US startup Hyzon, which will be leased by TR Group. All going to plan, Hiringa will import 1500 of Hyzon’s hydrogen trucks by 2023.
HWR also has hydrogen fuelling network plans.
And look for the Government to chip in more, given Woods sees hydrogen playing a key role in its goal to reduce emissions from freight transport by 35 per cent by 2035.
A paradox of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles is that although they run super-cleanly, the process of splitting hydrogen from oxygen, then compressing the hydrogen ready for fuelling, takes old-fashioned electricity – which, overseas, is often coal-fired.
In New Zealand, most of our electricity comes from renewables, allowing us to produce so-called “green hydrogen” – albeit with a network that’s already wobbling and requiring coal-fired top-ups today, let alone before the 20 per cent increase in generation that Transpower estimates will be required as cars go electric (with the qualifier that there’s some hydrogen action happening at the consumer end of the spectrum, too).
Woods is supporting a plan by Meridian and Contact – still in its early stages – to turn Manapouri into the world’s largest green hydrogen plant, using the power freed up once Rio Tinto closes the Tiwai Point smelter (which will be in 2024, under the current timetable – which of course has already been subject to many a change).
In February, Contact and Meridian appointed two Australian companies, Woodside Energy and Fortescue Future Industries, to enter “final stage negotiations to become lead developer” of a green hydrogen plant they claim will create “thousands” of jobs and add $800m to this country’s GDP.
And on a much more modest scale, last December Halcyon Power – a 50/50 joint venture between Tūaropaki Trust and Obayashi – began green hydrogen production near Taupo at a plant that uses geothermal power to electrolyse water. It aims to produce some 180 tonnes of hydrogen this year.
It’s far from a done deal that our freight networks will be dominated by hydrogen trucks in a decade’s time. But now, for the first time, it’s a possibility.