Hydrogen vehicles: Elvin Group to crack the chicken-and-egg scenario

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Elvin Group Renewables Managing Director, Samuel Blackadder is not chicken. Late last week, the former Head of Utility and Projects for Jinko Solar in Australia announced Elvin Group’s intention to manufacture electrolysers for green hydrogen production in Australia, through its investment in Hydrostar.

HydroStar USA’s unique membraneless electrolyser technology has been under development for more than 10 years, Blackadder tells pv magazine. “Good biochemists and a lot of R&D,” he says, have produced a proprietary electrolyte, dubbed B9 that enables low-cost production of hydrogen from solar energy; the resulting electrolyser also operates without power conditioning to connect to DC systems.

Its simplified configuration means the cost of Hydrostar electrolysers is calculated to be 75% less in production than other developed solutions.

Elvin Group Renewables has helped to “commercialise the brand”, says Blackadder, who adds, “We now have the IP in Australia. Our focus was to ensure that we could look at local manufacturing of electrolysers, and be able to offer a range of sizes.” 

Hydrostar Australia is currently based in Canberra and has produced and trialled units of 40kW and 50 kW in size, using local labour and 100% recycled materials. These small units can be combined and containerised into various configurations of up to 1 MW capacity.

Blackadder envisages such containerised solutions being installed at service stations; distribution centres; council and bus depots; businesses running hydrogen-fuelled-vehicle fleets; and on farms which currently use diesel fuel to drive water pumps, and have the potential to run hydrogen-fuelled equipment as well as farm vehicles.

The concrete connection

Another potential application is in concrete delivery by hydrogen-fuelled cement mixers.

Elvin Group’s core business is providing premixed concrete and concrete services in and around the Australian Capital Territory (ACT); and the company has for some years sought to minimise the carbon footprint of its fleet of 46 trucks, by working first with Melbourne-based SEA Electric to develop electric-driven cement mixers — an endeavour which ultimately proved unsuccessful.

Blackadder came in at the tail end of Elvin Group’s work with SEA, and began trying to solve the what-comes-first situation of hydrogen-fuel-cell vehicles and hydrogen refuelling infrastructure. 

Not to limit the horizon, Elvin Group has also formed a partnership with US electrolyser producer, Giner ELX, to provide larger electrolyser configurations. This agreement again has the potential to include local assembly and integration of the electrolysers under license.

The big end of electrolysis

Elvin Group Renewables is already in discussion with Denzo Pty Ltd, the trustee of The Mathews Family Trust, to supply the first of three large hydrogen plants it has planned with a 40 MW green hydrogen electrolyser in cooperation with Giner ELX.

The first Mathews project will produce hydrogen directly from a solar farm in Bundaberg, Queensland; others are planned for Port Kembla, NSW, and one of NSW’s renewable energy zones.

“The above cooperation will form a complete supply cycle to the end users of hydrogen, thus employing many staff for years to come, and this is an all-Australian initiative,” said Ken Mathews, CEO of Denzo in a statement.

“There is a lot of ability in Australia,” Blackadder told pv magazine, “I think we have a fantastic opportunity to help drive industry and the Australian economy.”

He says that Australia’s failure to become a solar manufacturer, “not capitalising on the early stages of PV when we had the chance to be the manufacturer,” still rankles with him. “Our government let it slip to China,” he says, “and that was a huge unfortunate moment for our manufacturing industry.”

He intends to invest in “a long view on hydrogen” and initiate a suite of solutions.

The maker’s marque

Mathews and Blackadder’s views on Australian manufacturing are strongly shared by the other partner in this emerging ecosystem, H2X, which this month announced plans to manufacture vehicles — potentially farm vehicles and other heavy workhorses, as well as a flash-looking hybrid SUV — in Australia.

Blackadder is chair at newly formed H2X, and H2X is an investor in Hydrostar Australia.

H2X CEO Brendan Norman said at the announcement of Elvin Group’s electrolyser-production plans that the local manufacture of this equipment would provide nationwide ready access to green hydrogen fuel for all hydrogen vehicles, including those planned for rollout by H2X.

“The “additional use of our capacities” in supporting Elvin Group in this venture, said Norman, “is an important backbone for H2X’s growth and stability”.

These companies’ plans are ambitious; their interlocking vision, inspiring in a country where opportunity is often squandered or left for others to realise. 

Blackadder says there has been “a heavy push”, significant offers made, to locate Elvin Group’s electrolyser manufacturing offshore. “However, we believe,” he says, “that Australia has the ability to be at the cutting edge and delivery of the hydrogen economy, both domestically and internationally.”

The port-side pole position

He’s looking to locate the company’s manufacturing headquarters somewhere close to a shipping port and existing centres of trade skills.

With some $50 million worth of orders for Hydrostar technology already, Blackadder is keen to commence production.

Among forward orders are two from service stations, one in Canberra, likely hoping to serve the Capital Territory’s fleet of 20 Hyundai Nexo hydrogen-fuelled government vehicles, and others encouraged by the government’s lead.

In seeking to crack hydrogen’s chicken-and-egg conundrum, Blackadder says it has been necessary to bring on multiple capabilities.

“You need to provide the solutions for the people,” he tells pv magazine. If H2X were to sell a fleet of vehicles either in Australia or overseas, “at least that customer will know that H2X can also facilitate their choice of an electrolyser; it’s about helping the customer make a change and remove themselves from fossil fuel dependency, about them having security in the supply of hydrogen.”