Hydrogen powered prime movers to roll into Townsville

The trucks will run on hydrogen from an electrolyser powered by solar electricity.

A world-first project will deploy massive trucks powered by renewable hydrogen to transport zinc from a mine in North Queensland to a nearby port.

As part of a new project led by Ark Energy, the five hydrogen fuel cell trucks will ferry zinc from Sun Metals’ Townsville mine to the Port of Townsville to be shipped around the world.

The five zero emission prime movers will be supplied by Hyzon Motors, replacing existing diesel-powered vehicles and preventing 1,300 tonnes of CO2 emissions each year.

The trucks will be set up in a road train, triple trailer configuration, taking advantage of the large amount of pulling power provided by the electric motors.

A Hyzon Motors fuel cell truck in road train configuration. Image: Hyzon Motors

Hydrogen to power the vehicles will be produced using a 1 MW electrolyser installed at the Sun Metals Corporation’s (SMC) Townsville zinc refinery, powered by electricity from the existing 124 MW solar farm.

The trucks are expected to become the world’s largest fuel cell vehicles when they hit the roads in late 2022.

In the family

Both Ark and SMC are subsidiaries of the Korea Zinc Company, the world’s largest producer of zinc, silver and lead.

Ark Energy’s Chief Executive Officer Daniel Kim told ARENAWIRE that the fuel cell vehicles stood out for their Townsville application.

“While electrification makes sense for passenger vehicles, light commercial vehicles and buses in some cases, it doesn’t work for ultra-heavy transport because the weight of the batteries required to power the truck would significantly negate the vehicle’s payload, which in our case is 140 tonnes,” Mr Kim said.

“The other issue is that our short-haul fleet of ultra-heavy trucks which operate between the Port of Townsville and the Sun Metals zinc refinery are high utilisation, meaning they operate 24/7 with multiple driver shifts and can’t be taken off the road for hours at a time to recharge.”

Finding a suitable supplier led the group to undertake a global search.

“We found that Hyzon Motors was the only OEM [original equipment manufacturer] that could meet our requirements, namely ultra-heavy 140 tonne rated hydrogen fuel cell electric trucks built to Australian Design Rules and delivered before the end of 2022,” he said.

Green hydrogen takes next step

ARENA has conditionally approved $3.02 million in funding to Ark Energy for the deployment of the electrolyser, hydrogen storage and refuelling equipment, with the project also supported by $12.5 million debt finance from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

The Queensland Government’s Hydrogen Industry Development Fund will also contribute $5 million.

Announcing the funding, ARENA CEO Darren Miller said the project could offer a valuable pathway to decarbonise the freight sector.

“Ark’s first-of-a-kind deployment is a great opportunity to highlight the potential of FCEV heavy vehicles in Australia, which has significant replication potential and could fast track the reduction of emissions by using renewable hydrogen not only in heavy transport, but the entire resources supply chain domestically,” Mr Miller said.

“As Australia pushes towards net zero emissions, we must continue to find renewable and clean solutions for hard-to-abate sectors now so that alternatives to fossil fuels can be implemented as soon as possible,” he said.

Ark’s project is the first to receive joint support from the CEFC and ARENA and will build on ARENA’s support for Toyota’s Hydrogen Centre in Melbourne, and BOC’s Brisbane refuelling station.