Time for a Hydrogen Highway


The following article in today's Brisbane Times (http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/national/oil-shortages-could-turn-outer-suburbs-into-slums-20101227-198lm.html) indicates that time is running out for Australia in relation to oil reserves. When you consider that our public transport systems (especially here in Brisbane) are already stretched to the limit, we urgently need to make some changes.

First, town planning really does need to take into account potential shortage of oil and the effect it will have. No new developments should be approved unless public transport systems are included to cater to the needs of ALL of the new population.

Second, oil (read petrol) needs to be replaced as our fuel for motor vehicles. There are a number of options but most of these are short term or have problems associated with them. One option stands out above the others.

When it is considered that ethanol comes from food crops (sugar cane, corn, maize) and that (here in Australia at least) the availability of good quality land for crops is minimal, the last thing we should be doing is replacing food crops with fuel crops. The efficiency of ethanol mixtures in our fuel is also questionable. Do your own experiment when you can; fill your tank with the ethanol mixture and take note of the distance you can travel (kilometres per litre); then do the same using standard unleaded petrol. Once completed, do the calculation of dollars per kilometre. You may be surprised. No wonder so many petrol companies are removing the standard unleaded petrol from their bowsers!

Electric Vehicles
This is a technology that many Australian governments are actively pursuing now (http://www.cio.com.au/article/353341/government_agencies_receive_all-electric_cars). Electric vehicles have the advantage of producing no pollution at the point of use and are silent running. They are also quite efficient. Unfortunately, there are a number of very concerning disadvantages of this technology.

In Australia, the electricity grid is powered by coal. This is dirtier than petrol and far less efficient. It is also a major cause of greenhouse gases. The 'debate' on the effect of greenhouse gases seems to continue in spite of the facts but this is a discussion for another article (

Replacing the use of petrol in all vehicles with the use of the public power grid for 'fuel' will place enormous pressure on an already overburdened system. Just imagine, if you will, 10.4 million cars all connecting to the grid around 6:00pm at night (as per the 2005 Australian Bureau of Statistics Year Book
http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Previousproducts/1301.0Feature%20Article292005?opendocument&tabname=Summary&prodno=1301.0&issue=2005&num=&view=). At that time of night, when air conditioners, ovens, televisions, lights and computers all seem to come on simultaneously, power utilities are already struggling to meet the demands of peak power.

From a consumers point of view, the limited range of the electric vehicle will be a major turn off to a popular uptake of this technology. 260 kilometres seems to be the best that can be expected currently in normal city driving conditions, far less if travelling at highway speeds (
http://gigaom.com/cleantech/battle-of-the-batteries-comparing-electric-car-range-charge-times). In addition, where consumers are used to being able to fill their tanks in 5-10 minutes now, charging times of 4-8 hours will be prohibitive.

Natural gas and diesel vehicles
Diesel is a much more reliable and efficient technology than that of petrol combustion engines. Gas is a cleaner burning fuel. Unfortunately, both of these fuels have similar long term problems to that of petrol: high pollution, greenhouse penalties and limited supplies. You would think that the massive developments occurring in coal seam methane here in Australia would result in an improved supply and better pricing for gas; this will not be the case. All of the current contracts have committed Australian coal seam gas to overseas markets. This is because they offer a better return for the investment to the developers.

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles
This technology, although in its infancy, appears to be the only real long term option for Australia. It has a number of advantages over other motor vehicle technologies: it is super efficient (up to 95%), its only exhaust is water vapour, the range in one recent release vehicle is as high as 616 kilometres (http://www.fuelcells.org/info/charts/carchart.pdf). Filling time (although slightly longer than current petrol systems) is still quite acceptable. The technology also has the advantage of using an electric drive train. This means that manufacturers can build on the current electric vehicle technology. There will also be more room in the vehicle than standard petrol combustion engines.

There are still a number of questions relating to the fuel cell vehicle technology though. Where does the hydrogen come from? If it comes from fossil fuels, are we any better off? What about a hydrogen infrastructure? Are hydrogen vehicles safe? How expensive will the vehicles be?

Many of these questions have already been addressed by the motor vehicle manufacturers. They are so convinced of the viability of the technology (and the need for a petrol replacement) that many majors have announced that they will have commercially available fuel cell vehicles by 2015 (

Where does the Australian Government stand in relation to fuel cell vehicles?
Well, there has been a Hydrogen Highway report released. The report called for the formation of a body to further the cause of hydrogen technology and this has happened with the launch of the Australian Association for Hydrogen Energy this year. What has not happened as yet is Government planning or a budget for a hydrogen infrastructure. There is also no incentive for Australian motor vehicle manufacturers to invest in this technology.

I would like to see a commitment to Australian consumers by their Government that we will be ready for oil shortages. I would like the state governments to provide incentive for consumers to use hydrogen fuel cell vehicles when they are available, by: the removal of stamp duty on their purchase; a hydrogen fuel subsidy; a marketing campaign similar to the campaign that promoted the use of ethanol; free use of toll roads and transit lanes for drivers of these vehicles; and compulsory implementation of hydrogen fuel stations by petrol companies.

Adrian Horin
Proprietor of dinkum energy
Director, Secretary and Public Officer of the Australian Association for Hydrogen Energy

2010 Australian Election and climate change policy

It seems that neither of the major political parties in the current Australian election have any intention of taking immediate action to reduce the causes of climate change or to prepare for the damage that will be caused by it. 

Prime Minister Julia Gillard mentioned climate change once in her official campaign launch and her words were far from encouraging. She is leaving all decisions until after a citizens assembly of 'ordinary people'. She has decided not to listen to the experts. What she has said is that there will be NO carbon tax while she is Prime Minister. She has also delayed attempting to have the Carbon Poulltion Reduction Scheme legislation passed through parliament for at least another three years. The CPRS was a heavily flawed scheme in that it actually paid the heavy polluters free permits to continue polluting. How does that discourage the use of coal fired power? Nevertheless, at least it was an attempt to address the issue of carbon pollution.

Opposition leader, Mr Tony Abbott, has indicated on numerous occasions that he has little concern (if any) for the causes or potential impacts of climate change. This week he acknowledged that climate change may be occuring but went further by saying that the planet may actually be cooling. He believes that the jury is well and truly out on the science of climate change and that the over 90% of the world's climate scientists have got it wrong.

Neither party has shown any commitment to wean Australia off fossil fuels or to encourage the use of renewable or low carbon technologies.

The Australian Greens Party does seem to have good policies in this area. It is such a pity that they have such extreme views in other areas that the majority of concerned Australians will not vote for them.

Are you as confused as I am in trying to work out who to vote for?