As renewable fission continues to gather pace where zero emission technologies in the global supply chain are concerned, in recent years a crowded field of newcomers and startups has emerged offering alternative electro-mobility solutions to fossil fuel reliance, perhaps none more active, especially in 2021, than Hyzon Motors.
The New York-based company is riding what seems like a continuous wave of notable announcements in the transport media since it first came to the attention of many in early 2020.
New commercial transport technologies in the age of Elon Musk are having no trouble attracting entrepreneurs chasing lucrative seed money from cashed-up equity groups by making bold claims about battery range and aerodynamic future engineering concepts at million dollar promotional events to temporarily tame the 24-hour news cycle.
Hyzon is not one of these.
For the past 17 years, the company has steadily built upon extensive hydrogen technology development for fuel cell systems at Horizon, its parent company, with an eye towards accelerating the energy transition through the manufacturing and supply of hydrogen fuel cell-powered commercial vehicles across the North American, European, and Australasian regions.
To date, Hyzon’s hydrogen fuel cell systems have powered around 500 commercial vehicles globally.
It also retains strong ties to science at the highest points of its decision-making chain.
Its Australian CEO Craig Knight, a co-founder of the company along with George Gu and Gary Robb, is a chemist by trade.
The connections with Australia extend beyond the boss. Last year it established an office in North Sydney for local operations.
A small core team is headed up by Operations Director John Feenan, who is no stranger to the renewables industry. He worked for 20 years in the gas and oil sector including a decade at Woodside where he was a commercial manager on the Northwest Shelf LNG Project before moving into mining for a few years.
At the end of 2019, looking to return to renewables, he was keen to work in hydrogen, a solution he considered the best placed to replace liquid hydrocarbons such as diesel and petrol.
“That drew me to looking at the hydrogen sector both as a mobility solution and also as an energy storage solution,” he recalls. “That prompted me to contact Hyzon and connect with Craig. So it’s been less than 12 months but I’ve been very busy ever since.”
Since he joined in July last year, the company has announced a slew of partnerships both overseas and locally.
One of the more publicised is the agreement announced with Viva Energy, who are progressing an energy hub in Victoria, which would support alternative energy sources, such as hydrogen.
It’s especially important as Hyzon’s immediate focus is laying down the infrastructure required in Australia before they can scale up to encourage confidence in the demand and supply of green hydrogen solutions.
“Viva have taken a view that out of their knowledge of transport fuels and hydrogen gas in the refining process that they have the capability to produce, store and distribute and refuel for heavy duty vehicles which is what we can provide,” says John. “From there we can really start to work in with fleet operators in providing them with solutions to transform their fleets from current diesel usage to zero emission hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.”
Although John doesn’t expect to see hydrogen in service station forecourts immediately, a plan is in place to build to that from an initial hub and spoke model. In the short term the focus of the relationship with Viva Energy will be around their Geelong refinery.
Once proof-of-concept is achieved in that area, and providing demand entails, Hyzon will look to expand with vehicle fleet operators while ensuring the hydrogen supply chain is in place.
“There’s a couple of steps to progress but the long term goal is to work together with Viva Energy to see hydrogen become readily available,” says John.
Ever since signing the first of its agreements with Hiringa Energy in August, 2020, Hyzon has subsequently agreed to build and supply the New Zealand energy company with zero emission heavy goods vehicles as part of an ambitious plan to have 1500 units operating in that country by 2026. An initial batch of 20 prime movers with a carrying capacity of 55 tonnes, in accordance with national regulations, have been ordered from Hyzon’s Groningen plant in the Netherlands of which the first four are anticipated for delivery later this year.
As Hiringa is already in the process of developing hydrogen refuelling infrastructure for New Zealand there’s an innate confidence in accommodating fuel availability, according to John, given the fleet of heavy goods vehicles Hyzon will supply are expected to work with a host of different operators.
“The capacity is there to start looking at some heavy duty haulage with fleet operators,” says John. “We expect the same vehicle to have a gross carry mass in the order of 70 tonnes on the type of flat pathway associated with Western Australia, by way of a local example.”
Up until that time comes, Hyzon can make do with the hydrogen fuel cell powered coaches it has, at present, operating for Fortescue Metals at its Christmas Creek mine in the Pilbara.
Built in China, these vehicles are demonstrating the potential to decarbonise fleets, particularly in remote areas where diesel is often transported thousands of kilometres so it can be burnt on site. In an area as vast and unforgiving as the Pilbara this is no small challenge.
For Hyzon, having the ability to produce hydrogen on site has the potential to lead to a total cost of ownership equivalent to or better than diesel according to John.
“They’ll be doing it through solar photovoltaics which means they are effectively producing and refuelling in their own location and controlling that infrastructure,” he says.
“That then gives operators confidence that they can start to transition to zero emissions and there’s a compelling economic argument associated with that as well. It’s certainly a first for Fortescue who have always been a leader in the mining space for innovation and pushing towards decarbonisation as you can see which will be an example of what emerges with other operators across the country.
“We would expect, in due course, something similar for heavy vehicle fleet operators and logistics vehicles.”
The ten hydrogen fuel cell coaches being evaluated by Fortescue are considered demonstration vehicles as part of a staged evolution program.
Insofar as this kind of arrangement will be attractive in remote locations where diesel has long been transported immense distances by trucks, the hub and spoke model in due course, with proof of its benefits, should lead eventually to point-to-point availability of hydrogen once the vehicles, built to the specifications of the fleets, eventually come online.
In terms of numbers, Hyzon expects that more demonstration fleets will appear in the next 12 to 24 months.
“Beyond that then we can start adding zeroes when we start to see a change out of existing fleets to zero emission vehicles and that would be a natural progression as vehicles get to their end of lease or end of term usage and they start to cycle through,” says John. “Then we’ll start to see orders for larger numbers of vehicles going forward.”
For now a major focus for Hyzon is to cross the threshold with key operators in building confidence that the vehicles and technology is available. Operators in turn, would build confidence in their management of the fuel cell vehicles and in their supply networks of fuel.
“Once we bring all those elements together it will help operators have the confidence to commit further with their fleets,” John says.
Globally the business expects to have jointly branded Hyzon vehicles across three continents soon. The company already has partnerships with DAF in Europe and Freightliner and Ford in the United States.
The Hyzon vehicle production model is asset light according to John, which is to say there’s no plans to build trucks from the ground up.
“We will partner with OEMs who are best in class with their cab chassis combinations that delivers an integrated solution that we can take to market with our hydrogen powertrain, which is the hydrogen gas storage and the fuel cell technology that goes with that,” he says.
“In due course we will look to localise our solutions so when you get into the more specialist vehicles such as garbage trucks and cement mixers then we are really going to need to work with the local body builders here in Australia to find the right chassis combination that will fit with their compactors or their agitators and then work from that basis.”
As a startup, Hyzon has frontloaded its proof-of-concept with a superior design to ensure it can lay out the electric architecture of the vehicle with the motors, the battery, the fuel cell and the storage — all with a view to encompassing the legal weight distribution and factors of axle loading.
“It’s an evolving landscape for us,” says John. “All of those things we take into account before we sign off to say we can deliver that product to a customer.”
Of late, a flurry of activity around Australia would appear to have repudiated its status as a developing hydrogen market.
It also begs the question of which country might be considered advanced? More recently the Queensland Government, itself embattled by the challenges of renewing an economy, let alone a renewable one, established what it calls a Hydrogen Task Force.
Sumitomo Corporation, a Japanese multinational, also has formalised a partnership with Gladstone Ports Corporation, Gladstone Regional Council, CQUniversity Australia and Australian Gas Infrastructure Group to develop what is being touted as Australia’s first hydrogen ecosystem in Central Queensland.
Toyota just last month announced a new $7.4 million Hydrogen Centre at Altona in Melbourne’s west in partnership with gas firm BOC.
Hyzon Motors already has a memorandum of understanding with Pure Hydrogen Corporation, a division of ASX-listed Real Energy, to work together on the provision of building a network of refuelling stations for hydrogen in Australia.
Naturally John and his core team, which is growing, are closely following these developments.
“I think we’ve spoken to potentially every hydrogen production facility or hub that is in Australia,” he says. “We know a lot of the potential projects coming online and we’re working closely to develop solutions for marketing in those areas. What we’re seeing is different hub developments for hydrogen mobility solutions and around that we create what we call a hydrogen ecosystem.”
At this juncture in hydrogen’s infrastructural evolution, Hyzon awaits for a better picture to materialize in which to ascertain demand, identify the players operating in the field and how best it might work with them to fulfil its promise of providing superior mobility solutions.
As that tipping point is likely to cover a spectrum of potential vehicle types, Hyzon will look at localising a solution should the demand warrant it. For the moment, however, the back to base model, at least in theory, would include delivery vehicles with hydrogen storage tanks being available instead of fixed refuelling infrastructure.
Never did far away charge so close to echo Peruvian poet César Vallejo.
Initiatives are already underway for hydrogen refuelling projects on the major highways of both the east and west coasts of Australia. Linehaul freight movements like those connecting Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and often as far north as Cairns, offer a blueprint for strategic markers when it comes to demand and distance.
The majority of commercial vehicles Hyzon is currently developing target a 600-kilometre range meaning major fleet operators can have confidence their drivers can refuel as they travel between the major freight destinations. To this effect point-to-point refuelling remains the end game. And in the meantime, increasing the financial strength of Hyzon is key.
It was certainly given a huge boost in February following the announcement of Hyzon’s plans to go public through a merger with Decarbonization Plus Acquisition Corporation (NASDAQ: DCRB) under a deal worth around $3.5 billion. With that has come experience working with DCRB at an executive level according to John.
“What it does is underwrite the expansion plans of the company with confidence,” he says.
That includes Hyzon’s Rochester facility which will now have fuel cell stack production capabilities and vehicle integration in addition to the construction of a membrane electrode assembly plant in the Chicago area.
Between the facilities it is developing in the US and the factories it has in Europe and China, John expects Hyzon will have capacity to meet demand for 12,000 heavy duty vehicles per annum with a capacity available to increase that to over 20,000 vehicles, possibly as early as 2025.
This ambitious upscaling will include Hyzon’s third generation fuel cell stack.
The technology, which is currently going through a verification process, will enable a Hyzon hydrogen vehicle to increase its current single stack capacity of 150kW to 370kW in just one stack, around 500 horsepower in the old scale, making it the highest-powered density available in the market later this year.
“What that means is we’ll be able to provide that higher powered density and with volume you’ll start to see the improving cost structures,” John says. “Economies of scales come with volume which is something we can make available for our customers when the demand builds.”