CEFC's Yates says solar-to-hydrogen fuel cheaper than petrol in regions | RenewEconomy

CEFC’s Yates says solar-to-hydrogen fuel cheaper than petrol in regions

CEFC’s Oliver Yates says solar-to-hydrogen fuels already cheaper than petrol in regional areas. He would like hydrogen refuelling network to follow NBN. All he needs is fuel cell vehicles.


Clean Energy Finance Corporation chief executive Oliver Yates says he is a big fan of hydrogen energy, and believes that right now solar-to-hydrogen fuels in regional Australia would be cheaper at the pump than petrol. All that is missing are the hydrogen fuel cell cars and a refuelling network.

But 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 electrolysed 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. In Japan, they have had the same problem – a chicken and egg situation that was only resolved when the big three car manufacturers – Toyota, Honda and Nissan – pledged to build fuel cell vehicles, and the big power companies vowed to provide the infrastructure.

miraiThat is now starting to emerge. The Toyota Mirai, which went on sale in Japan this year, has been unveiled in Australia. But it is not on sale here, and not likely to be for several years, although it will be taken to Canberra’s Park Hyatt this week to show to politicians. Hyundai has unveiled a single vehicle in Australia, the ix35, and has even built a refuelling station in Sydney to service that one vehicle.

“Those two vehicles are a key step to realising the transition to low carbon can provide to us all,” Yates said, indicating that the CEFC was interested in financing such developments. “Hydrogen is a new technology, refueling is a new technology. Banks are nervous about financing new technology, and that is where the CEFC can step in.

Australia has a real problem in the transport fuels sector. Currently, it has little or no emissions or fuel standards, although environment minister Greg Hunt is talking about changing that. The NRMA has pointed to the risks of importing nearly all its transport fuels.

Yates says Australia needs to encouraging investment in low or zero emission vehicles. Australia, he said, sells one million vehicles a year, and Australia’s vehicles were the least efficient in the world, with emissions 43 per cent higher than the EU on average.

“In a carbon-constrained economy, we have got a lot of work to do to improve vehicle efficiency standards in Australia.”

One company looking to develop a system of home-or business-based hydrogen refuelling systems in Sefca.

CEO Martin Burns says the technology is expensive and clunky, but no more so than the initial mobile phones.

He is proposing a system that would use 10kW of rooftop solar and rain water or filtered tap water to produce pure hydrogen, that could then refuel FCVs (fuel cell vehicles), at a fraction of the time of electric vehicles, and with more range.

“You get sunshine, you bottle it, and you have enough hydrogen to fill up the car” every day of the week, he said.

Brand says the company is working with Hyundai and government agencies for support for the unit, which could be trialled in Australia next year.

“The first units will be like the first mobile phones, large and clunky and do only one car a day,” Burns said. “But with 5 cars a day we can match costs. I don’t have to be cheaper than petrol because if you are (refuelling) at home or at work, you will use the technology”

Still, it’s a big capital cost. The initial target price for an electrolysis system for five cars would be $100,000. It wold deliver “free” fuel after that, but may only have an operating life of five years. Brand says the company is aiming for $10,000 a unit. That would provide free fuel for a single car for five years, comparable with petrol price costs.









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  1. orko138 5 years ago

    Its hard to understand why Oliver is buying into the Hydrogen though bubble. It just wont happen for vehicles. No major supply sources, no logistical framework or infrastructure to transport the gas, no points of supply for refuelling, and bugger all vehicles using hydrogen, and the manufacturers pipeline has fewer and fewer cars under development.

    The exact opposite is true for electric cars.

    Though his view does reflect the view of Climateworks on hydrogen vehicles comprising a surprisingly large share of the road vehicle fleet by 2050. Im not convinced – its going to take a lot to get this industry up and running, and for what? There is little to no incremental benefit in running hydrogen vehicles compared to EVs. And the market for EV’s is light years ahead.

    • Chris Drongers 5 years ago

      Agree that hydrogen does not make sense for most vehicles which have a short daily range and for which rapidly developing batteries seem adequate.
      Maybe hydrogen has a potential to substitute natural gas in large power stations for balancing variations in wind and solar output. Cryogenic hydrogen also has the benefit of being shippable in bulk carriers giving the opportunity of an export energy market to substitute for coal.

      • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

        Hydrogen is an incredibly inefficient way to store electricity. Batteries are almost certain to do the grid smoothing chores. “Deep backup” is likely better done with pump-up hydro, biogas or biomass. Perhaps flow batteries.

        Hydrogen is a poor solution looking for a desperate problem.

        • Jacob 5 years ago

          We could have hydrogen powered aircraft.

          • neroden 5 years ago

            It’s an interesting possibility, and we should research it, but the fear of runaway fire on aircraft is *very* substantial.

          • Peter Campbell 5 years ago

            And the current aviation fuel isn’t flammable?

          • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

            Have you seen any fleshed out ideas? Could we fit enough H2 in a 747 to fly it from SF to Tokyo?

          • Jacob 5 years ago

            Space rockets use hydrogen as a fuel.

            The density of liquid hydrogen is far higher than of jet fuel.

          • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

            Passenger jets on liquid hydrogen?

            Somehow that doesn’t sound like the thing to do.

          • Jacob 5 years ago

            How about cargo aircraft and military aircraft.

          • Ronald Brakels 5 years ago

            Various millitaries are… sufficiently motivated… to experiment with hydrogen. I’m certain a lot of the stories you hear about hydrogen cars and hydrogen buses are really public relations sideshows used to paint a happy future picture of the technology when companies are actually hoping to sell expensive fuel cell systems to Gunz ‘n Bombz Bureaus.

            My opinion is, if you stay at home you don’t need hydrogen powered weapons platforms, but I guess with that sort of attitude Germany would never have invaded Poland.

          • Ronald Brakels 5 years ago

            We can fit enough H2 in a 747 to fly to from SF to Tokyo. I just don’t recommend it.

            What I do recommend for now is a world wide carbon price for fuel used in international air travel. For various reasons it might need to start low but could gradually increase until it equals the cost of removing the CO2 released from the atmosphere and sequestering it. (This could cost as little as $70 US a tonne of CO2, but estimates vary widely.)

            This way, if no one has come up with something better than oil derived jet fuel, we can still use air travel without increasing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. And if we do come up with something that in practice is better, whether really big catapults or something a little more unrealistic, then yay.

          • Coley 5 years ago

            Aye the hindenburg comes to mind;)

    • Peter F 5 years ago

      Faster charging, lighter, longer range, potentially cheaper. A carbon fibre storage tank is a lot cheaper, lighter and space efficient than 40-80kW.hr of batteries and even less dependant on materials with limited supply options

      • orko138 5 years ago

        Sure, but electricity grid infrastructure already exists, range of EVs soon to hit 700-1000km per charge (recent comments from Musk), charging stations being rolled out every day, billions of dollars in investment already sunk, huge investment in battery tech outside of automotive sector, renewable generation costs (utility and consumer) falling at an incredibly fast rate, batteries are mostly re-usable and recyclable.

        Why replace one liquid fuel with another liquid fuel that requires production, physical transport via trucks or pipelines, when you can just deliver the energy via pure electricity on existing networks. Megawatts are literally falling from the sky and blowing in the wind every day. Its crazy to then spend that energy on creating another fuel stock when you can just use the energy itself.

        • Ian 5 years ago

          You are absolutely wrong here. You are not replacing one liquid fuel with another, you are replacing a liquid fuel with a highly volatile gas, it needs to be stored in high pressure tanks of 350 to 700 bar a lot of energy is required to achieve those levels of compression. I thought fireworks were banned in Australia!

          • Jacob 5 years ago

            Fireworks are legal in at least 1 state. 🙂

      • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

        Faster filling is not particularly important unless you drive very long distances often.

        With a longer range EV you get up in the morning with 200 miles of electricity on board.

        During lunch you can grab another 170 or more. That’s technology we have right now.

        In fact, you’ll spend probably 10-12 hours a year filling a FCEV when the EV driver will just take a few seconds to plug in and unplug. And that may be “automated” (inductive charging).

        Weight is less important for EVs than most people realize. Most of the energy used to get the weight moving is recaptured during regenerative braking. Aerodynamics is the important issue. And FCEVs have an aerodynamics problem due to all the air they need to intake for cooling the stack.

        There aren’t any appreciable material squeezes for EVs.

        It would take a repeal of the laws of physics in order for H2 driving to be cheaper that electricity stored in batteries. EVs can go 2 to 3 miles on the electricity it takes to extract a mile’s worth of H2 and compress it.

  2. Zvyozdochka 5 years ago

    We need an energy dense liquid fuel. For road, air and shipping (less so rail) transport. Hydrogen isn’t that.

    Toyota’s heavy investment in FCEV is odd – I’ve never seen much of an explanation of their choices.

    I also don’t understand why methanol isn’t taken up. It is nearly as energy dense as petrol, could be distributed with existing refilling assets almost without modification, burned or applied in a fuel-cell and can be a syn-fuel for aircraft (as the US navy is exploring). It’s also a closed carbon-loop.

    A hydrogen fuel cycle has always seemed a bit like fusion, always a few years away.

    • Chris Drongers 5 years ago

      Diesel 44800 kJ/kg, hydrogen 141790 kJ/kg

      Where do you get the low energy density of hydrogen?


      • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

        Hydrogen is lightweight. Not energy dense in terms of volume.

        • Zvyozdochka 5 years ago

          Hmmm, methanol, HALF the energy density of gasoline. Got that one wrong.

          Do you think methanol cycles should/could be investigated though?

          • Ronald Brakels 5 years ago

            Personally I don’t think we’ll need methanol. Now it would be nice to have a green fuel to use until all ground transport is electrified and for we come up with something better than oil for flight, but if the total cost of a synthetic fuel is greater than the cost of using oil based fuels and then capturing and sequestering the carbon dioxide released, then it’s not really worth it unless there are some other advantages to offset the greater cost.

            To build the methanol or other synthetic fuel production capacity will cost money, building up the distribution system will cost money even if it can piggy back on existing fossil fuel infrastructure, building or altering vehicles to use it will cost money, and dealing with its health effects will also be an issue. Methanol is toxic and so is gasoline, but we’ve had a lot of practice at not drinking gasoline. We may not do so well with methanol.

            So if electric cars continue to expand in popularity, then less oil will be used which will cause the price of oil to fall, or at least not rise, and this will make it easier to place a carbon price on gasoline and diesel which can pay to remediate most of the environmental damage caused by legacy vehicles and things such as flight. And there will be no need for a synthetic transition fuel between oil and and electric transport.

            This may be an inelegant solution, but it is a practical one, and if we come up with something better such as running planes off “lasers” or masers or zero point energy or something, then we can use that as soon as it’s practical.

  3. Coley 5 years ago

    And where’s all the water coming from to support the hydrogen pipe dream?

    • Jacob 5 years ago

      The sea for $2/kL or the air for $10/kL.

      • Coley 5 years ago

        And where’s all the left over salt going to be dumped?

        • Jacob 5 years ago

          Due to which process/product?

          • Coley 5 years ago

            Electrolysis using seawater? It will result in lots of salt as a by product surely?didn’t understand your bit about using air.

          • Jacob 5 years ago

            Ok the $1/kL product.

            Israelis are working on a machine that takes the humidity in the air and distils it into water. I think that water costs $10/kL to produce.

  4. Peter F 5 years ago

    I am not saying that it is clearly better than batteries. It may have its place, particularly for traction loads, trucks tractors, earth movers etc. We shouldn’t be putting all our eggs in one basket.
    The grid helps BEV’s but it also helps localised hydrogen generation just as well and on long thin routes it is cheaper (i.e more energy efficient) to transport liquid fuels (or compressed hydrogen) by road or rail than to extend the electricity grid.
    The EROI argument is worth noting but their are many instance where the energy out is much less than the energy in. for example diesel powered lighting at a mine site. It is possible to make hydrogen wherever you have water and sunlight so in some cases a solar powered local hydrolysis system may be cheaper to transport install and operate than a solar + battery system

    • neroden 5 years ago

      Construction equipment on remote mines is already going to battery power. So are local delivery trucks. I see no transportation use for hydrogen.

      • Coley 5 years ago

        What about heavy plant and tractors etc? While being no enthusiast for a hydrogen economy I can see a place for it in the medium term .

        • nakedChimp 5 years ago

          Machinery that runs 24/7 and needs to be reliable will be the first that can afford big/high energy batteries..
          Hydrogen won’t help there, as flimsy and inefficient it is.
          They get solar panels and windmills installed out there easily to recharge. Why waste half of that during conversion from electricity to H2 back to electricity?
          The hydrogen train didn’t got out the station early enough and won’t ever be able to catch up with the battery train. That window of opportunity has been closed 5 years ago.

      • Peter F 5 years ago

        Very little is running on batteries, some is diesel electric which can be more efficient but the vast bulk is diesel and has a much higher daily duty cycle than any car even a taxi. At the current state of the art, big enough batteries for a haul truck are just not practical

        • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

          “An electric truck has been officially deployed in Munich, Bavaria, Germany, in a partnership between German automobile manufacturer BMW and automotive service provider Scherm. Together, the two companies have put the first 40-ton electric vehicle on public roads.

          The truck, designed and built by Dutch truck manufacturer Terberg, will be charged exclusively using energy from renewable sources. It takes 3 to 4 hours to charge completely, and can travel up to 100 kilometres on a full charge, which will allow it to work for a full day on a single charge.”


  5. Adam Parris 5 years ago

    Good news, we have eliminated the use of hydrogen from our competition. We are challenging teams from around the world to build a 100% electric truck, capable of travelling 700 kilometres on a single charge with autonomous capabilities.
    The competition will happen here in Australia! Check us out at Voltaprize.org
    Share us and comment on our forum.

    • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

      Why not make it half that distance with battery swap?

      A large truck could pull in every two hours or so, have a battery pack extracted, a new one inserted, and be back on the road in a very few minutes.

      That could probably be done with today’s battery capacity and done for a reasonable price. Packing 700 km into a truck with today’s capacity batteries might be a real squeeze.

      And the exchange stations would still be useable and needed as capacity rises. Truckers would just move from exchanging every 2 hours to every 3, then 4, ….

      Some US trucks are team driven and operate 24 hours a day.

      • Adam Parris 5 years ago

        Great question, thank you Bob.
        To answer your question, I have answered the why for setting a 700km’s limit in our forum. Would love to hear your thoughts

  6. trackdaze 5 years ago

    Too late hydrogen! We are 5yrs away from next to no running cost plug in hybrids. If I can charge my car for nix im certainly not going to be paying whatever it is you want per litre/kg

    It was a bad idea for the hindenberg it will definitely be so for my neighbours.

    I can see it being viable for heavy haulage or as a means of storage for renewable energy.

  7. neroden 5 years ago

    Hydrogen is appallingly inefficient and expensive compared to batteries.

    At this point, though, pretty much anything looks efficient and cheap compared to petrol. It’s probably cheaper to burn organic yak butter than to burn petrol. (OK, maybe not, but you get my point.)

  8. Adam Parris 5 years ago

    Oliver is an ex-Macquarie Banker, I’m assuming he doesn’t use many mental models from chemistry, biology & physics (reasoning from first principals) to form a rational conclusion.

    Hence why he is a Hydrogen fan.

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