Thursday, 17 July 2014
Hyundai: Electric Vehicle Project
Earlier this week I had the opportunity to attend a briefing by the Hyundai hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle project team who were sharing their passion and vision for a hydrogen highway in Australia. Hyundai are working on the full commercialisation of a practical car—powerful and comparable to current petroleum based vehicles—which runs entirely on hydrogen and where the only emission is water vapour. This is part of their vision to see an environmentally sustainable Australian and global transport sector.
In the past, electric cars have been ignored and simply considered to be a gimmick—and certainly not particularly fast, powerful or practical. However, with advances in technology, this is no longer the case. Now you can fill up your hydrogen tank in the same time as it takes to fill up a car with petroleum. Your car can reach speeds of 120 kilometres an hour. A single fuel tank will last almost 600 kilometres. The hydrogen tank takes up the same space as a conventional fuel tank, ensuring there is no loss of car space or compromise on practicality. When the Hyundai team came to speak to us, they asked us not to see them as representatives from Hyundai but rather as representatives from the global effort to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and to advocate for the infrastructure investment required for the hydrogen future. This is important, as the infrastructure investment outlays required to make hydrogen sustainable and, actually, environmentally friendly, are enormous. However, it is only by an initial large investment in hydrogen that a hydrogen highway in Australia could be possible.
The ultimate goal of the project team is to partner with big business, government and other vehicle manufacturers to establish a hydrogen highway between Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne, which has been given the project title of the Hume by Hydrogen project. I can say that I am very excited by the idea of this project. The potential of efficient hydrogen fuel cells and zero emission vehicles into the future is not only amazing but also vital, as we face diminishing reserves of fossil fuels and ever-rising prices of oil.
However, before we get too excited, we need to realise this is a long way off. As hydrogen is the smallest element in the universe, it is therefore incredibly difficult to store, as it leaks through almost everything. The materials and methods required to make such storage tanks, which are still inefficient, are incredibly expensive and environmentally unfriendly. Research into storing hydrogen within carbon nanotubes—which, basically, looks like a tank full of feathers—is underway and providing promising results. However, it is still far from commercial viability. The fuel cell itself, which combines hydrogen with oxygen to produce water and electricity, requires precious metals, such as platinum or polonium, making the fuel sale incredibly expensive.
Research into using cheaper catalysts is currently underway at ANU. To be a long-term viable alternative to fossil fuel cars, there would need to be a hydrogen refuel station at every petrol station in the country. Each station would need to provide for hundreds of cars a day and use entirely green hydrogen. Currently, a single station would cost many millions of dollars and, probably, be quickly superseded by better technology.
I refer to green hydrogen because currently the majority of hydrogen produced globally comes from a process called steam reforming, where at upper high temperatures—700 to 1,100 degrees Celsius—you combine natural gas, a fossil fuel, with water vapour. For each three hydrogen molecule pairs, one carbon dioxide molecule is formed. This means current industrial hydrogen is, effectively, a fossil fuel.
However, Professor Ben Hankamer, at the University of Queensland's Institute of Molecular Bioscience in my electorate of Ryan, is part of the global biofuels consortium. One of his projects is genetically modifying algae to produce hydrogen as a part of its normal biological process. This could mean an unlimited supply of clean hydrogen extracted from plants, living and thriving off the most basic of nutrient requirements. While this project is quite advanced and has international support, we still need to be more efficient before it is viable for commercialisation. I will continue to strongly advocate for continued investment in the research and I look forward to seeing what Professor Hankamer and his team can develop.
The only way to bring the hydrogen future to fruition is through investment in research, public education and promotion of the product. I congratulate the team from Hyundai for doing just that as well as the many other product businesses— (Time expired)