Taranaki company has bold plans to help decarbonise trucking sector with green hydrogen

A Taranaki company is about to roll out four green hydrogen refuelling stops as part of its bold plan to decarbonise the highly polluting freight trucking sector.

Hiringa, alongside fertiliser company Ballance, got $20 million from the Provincial Growth Fund in 2020 to build a green hydrogen production facility for making fertiliser and zero emission fuel.

But energy transition experts have questions about whether green hydrogen as a fuel is commercially viable.

Hiringa is run by a former oil and gas senior executive Andrew Clennett, now turning his hand to green energy.

"The energy we get from fossil fuels has been incredibly enabling," Clennett said. "But it's also come at quite a price."

Hiringa is producing green hydrogen and will soon roll out a network of four refuelling stops across the North Island.

The goal is to decarbonise one of the biggest polluters on New Zealand's roads - the heavy freight fleet.

"Twenty five percent of the emissions in transport comes from just 4 percent of the fleet which is those heavy trucks, so if we can tackle those trucks we can have a big impact," Clennett said.

Currently, there are only two trucks fuelled on hydrogen on the roads - but Clennett said 23 more will be in New Zealand by the end of the year.

Hydrogen refuelling is fast and has a fuel has good range, Clennett said, and is lighter than batteries.

"So, it can go a long way and fuel quickly so it earns money."

But Perth-based energy transition expert Mark Thomson said battery technology is leaving hydrogen behind, making electric vehicles more viable.

"It's advancing quickly and will continue to do so, and I think it's already surpassed where hydrogen is going to be able to compete.

"If you look at fuel cell electric vehicles and hydrogen vehicle sales, they're two or three orders of magnitude or more below where battery electric vehicle sales are.

"And I am reasonally positive heavy goods vehicles are going to go the same way."

Thomson said hydrogen production and transport is expensive, compared to batteries which are only getting cheaper.

"It doesn't take much analysis to figure out that [hydrogen] cannot possibly be commercially viable."

Clennett concedes some Government help, such as tax credits, will be needed to encourage trucking companies to move to hydrogen.

He said they're leveraging infrastructure in Hiringa's partnership with fertiliser company Ballance on a $50 million production facility - funded partly by the Provincial Growth Fund set up by the Labour-New Zealand First Coalition.

"Having a partner that has got a need for the hydrogen and can decarbonise their process with that hydrogen, that creates an immediate scale."

There are other industries struggling to decarbonise, where hydrogen could play a role including steel manufacture, and shipping.

The diesel-fuelled cargo ship is one of New Zealand's biggest emitters and most essential vehicles carrying Aotearoa's food, electronics and clothing - and it's hoped green hydrogen may be able to one day help decarbonise.

But Thomson said that'll be no simple task.

"Hydrogen leaks very easily because it's a very small molecule, you have to store it at very high pressures if you want to get any kind of serious quantity of energy."

"The scale of what we need to do is enormous," said Clennett.

On that, everyone can agree.