Economic and environmental factors: Hydrogen ticks both boxes

Economic and environmental factors: Hydrogen ticks both boxes

Australia has been fast positioning itself to lead the world on hydrogen production and exports, announcing last year that it would develop a National Hydrogen Strategy to determine a coordinated way forward to maximise the country’s competitive advantages and move forward.

Activity is rife at a national and state level, with the Governments of Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia currently developing their own state-based hydrogen strategies focussing on different parts of the hydrogen value chain.

At the centre of this hydrogen vision is industry association Hydrogen Mobility Australia (HMA). Comprised of a collection of vehicle manufacturers, energy companies, infrastructure providers, research organisations and governments, the HMA wants to create a hydrogen society for Australia built upon clean and renewable energy technology, including hydrogen-powered transport.

Since its inception in February 2018 when car giants Hyundai and Toyota ultimately came together to work together in establishing a hydrogen mobility sector in Australia, the HMA has given the hydrogen sector an industry voice into government. It has since been joined by over 20 other companies with interests across the entire hydrogen value chain, from Air Liquide and BOC, to BP and Siemens.

At the heart of this movement was Claire Johnson, who was at the helm of the HMA as CEO from its inception and oversaw a period of significant growth of the organisation to the widely recognised hydrogen advocate that it is today. Indeed, when Johnson stepped aside in June (2019) to pursue her own start-up in the hydrogen space, HMA Chairman Ian Mutton reflected on her role in shaping the association.

“Claire’s leadership of Hydrogen Mobility Australia has seen the association grow into a highly dynamic and effective organisation, underpinned by a tripling of its membership base in less than 12 months,” he said.

While the role of HMA CEO has now fallen to Dr. Fiona Simon, Johnson’s undiminishing passion for hydrogen – which began during her days in government relations at Toyota Australia when she got her first taste of a hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) – continues apace at Hydrolytics, enabling the clean hydrogen economy through data-driven solutions.

Hydrolytics is developing technology-based solutions to help organisations unlock the potential of hydrogen projects and navigate the sector with more data and insights at their fingertips. As Co-Founder and CEO, Johnson brings significant knowledge and enthusiasm to this quest.

She is convinced of the important role of hydrogen in the transport sector and regards herself as a passionate advocate for hydrogen and fuel cell technologies. Here, she shares her thoughts on all things hydrogen, including challenges and changes in the ecosystem, in an exclusive interview with H2 View.

Thanks for giving H2 View your time. As the president of Hydrogen Mobility Australia until very recently, you’ve got a great grounding in the hydrogen energy movement. What innovation or application makes you most excited for the future?

There are so many exciting developments taking place in the hydrogen sector at the moment that at times it’s difficult to keep up! With my background in the automotive industry, I always keep an eye on what’s happening in the motoring space, and while it’s not an innovation or application as such, I believe it alone will spur on important developments in this area.

Add to that Wan Gang’s (otherwise known as ‘China’s father of electric vehicles’) recent comments that hydrogen is the car industry’s next game-changing moment – when the world’s largest market for new car sales signals their intention to transition to a new technology, OEMs take notice.

One of the biggest challenges for the uptake of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles has been the availability of models, so any move from China to embrace hydrogen in a bigger way should catalyse manufacturers to move faster to capture a slice of this enormous market.

claire johnson h2 view quote

© H2 View

What changes have you seen within the hydrogen ecosystem in the past year?

The momentum behind hydrogen over the past 12 months has grown exponentially. This is definitely positive for the sector, but there is a need to ensure we don’t get caught up in the hype. Fortunately, the recent IEA report does counter this concern to a large degree, noting that while hydrogen has had a few false starts, the time is right to tap into its potential.

From an Australian perspective, this year has seen government jump on board the hydrogen train in a big way, largely in recognition of our potential role as a future major exporter. It’s been excellent to see governments of all persuasions recognise this opportunity, whether they be motivated by economic or environmental factors. Hydrogen, of course, ticks both of these boxes.

Where do you feel the pinch points or challenges currently are in the hydrogen space?

The challenges the hydrogen sector currently faces are consistent with any new technology or resource and centre on the need to reduce costs, increase demand, and create a robust marketplace. These factors can certainly be overcome, as evidenced by solar PV, wind or batteries, but in each of these instances, government support and coordination played an integral role in their eventual success.

From an export perspective, here in Australia we often refer to the LNG sector journey as an example of a highly successful export commodity that hydrogen could mimic. In the development of the LNG industry however, government played a critical role in underwriting projects, thereby minimising investment risk. While the extent of government involvement in the scale-up of the Australian hydrogen sector remains to be seen, some level of support will be essential.

“My message is for those working in the energy or mobility sectors to start taking a look at hydrogen more closely. Should the industry scale-up to the level anticipated, there will be a real need for people with transferable skills to transition into the sector”

What is Hydrolytics and what role does it aim to play in the future hydrogen economy?

As CEO of the Australian hydrogen association until recently, I witnessed the pain points that organisations participating in the hydrogen sector were experiencing first hand and saw an opportunity to take a data-driven approach to overcoming these challenges.

At Hydrolytics, we develop technology-based solutions to assist organisations unlock the potential of their hydrogen projects and navigate the sector with more data and insights at their fingertips.

We’re excited to launch our first product, Hydrogen Cloud, shortly, which has been designed specifically for the hydrogen sector to help operators and investors manage their entire asset portfolio in one single cloud-based platform.

If you could leave readers with just one hydrogen-related message, what would it be?

My message is for those working in the energy or mobility sectors to start taking a look at hydrogen more closely. Should the industry scale-up to the level anticipated, there will be a real need for people with transferable skills to transition into the sector.

Potential skill shortages have already been flagged as an issue that will need to be resolved for the sector to reach its full potential. Personally, I find it a very fulfilling space to be a part of, as well as being very collegial so I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.

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