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by Tim Beissmann

Australia’s industry and science minister has labelled hydrogen “the fuel of the future” and rather remarkably brushed off hybrid and electric vehicles as mere “transitioning technology”.

Speaking at the unveiling of the country’s first hydrogen-powered vehicle, the Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell, in Sydney today, federal minister Ian Macfarlane (pictured below, left) told reporters hydrogen fuel cell technology ticks all the boxes to become the dominant fuel of Australia’s future vehicle and transportation fleet.

“The long-term future has got to be in a fuel cell vehicle that is zero-emission,” Macfarlane said.

“The ultimate solution surely is, in the full cycle, something that starts with water and ends with water. This is the fuel of the future.”

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The potential for any government investment in electric vehicle recharging infrastructure seems thin, with the minister expressing his scepticism in the technology’s viability as a long-term transportation alternative.

“There’s no doubt that hybrid and electric technology is a transitioning technology,” Macfarlane said.

“Electric vehicles will play a role – how much of a role, we’ll see.

“Some people say that solution lies in electric cars. I don’t drive an electric car. Some people say we will have enough fossil fuels to last us for centuries. I don’t agree with that either.

“The reality is that if you drive an electric car, chances are that it’s being fuelled by a fossil fuel generator. Out of sight perhaps, and perhaps out of mind, but it’s not the solution.

“Hydrogen certainly strikes me as the fuel of the future. You’re not carrying around batteries, you’re not having to dispose of batteries every four to eight years.

“In terms of where we’re going long term you need a vehicle that’s flexible and gives you the range – the hydrogen vehicle is the only one that satisfies those criteria.”

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Also at today’s unveiling, Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries CEO Tony Weber encouraged the government to adopt a “holistic approach” to Australia’s future vehicle fleet.

“There are a number of technologies, and then there are combinations of those technologies,” Weber said. “It will be interesting to see how it all plays out, but certainly [hydrogen is] part of that mix.

“[The government needs] to understand where the technology is going and they need to understand the role of the internal combustion engine and getting the right fuels to market, so it’s part of a very complex debate and you cannot pick out bits of it in isolation.

“There are a number of different options and the reality is that you can get a lot of gains out of the internal combustion engine, especially when adopted to hybrid.

“The minister said that electric’s not sustainable, but who knows what the world’s going to look like in 10 years’ time? There could be great leaps forward in solar or wind power, and we might have an abundance of electricity.”

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Macfarlane said the Australian government was currently assisting with research and development into hydrogen currently being conducted by the Australian Research Council and the CSIRO, but stopped short of promising investment into national hydrogen refuelling infrastructure.

“We’ll look at how we can assist the industry get off its feet, but in reality what we’ve seen in America and Europe is that consumer demand creates the opportunity and fuel stations are being rolled out.

“Yes, we do want to see this industry prosper, we do want to see hydrogen become a viable alternative. How that happens is really a collaboration between science, industry and government, and we’ll have that conversation.”

Macfarlane says he’s excited by the prospect of one day having “a network of refuelling stations right across the eastern seaboard and ultimately right across Australia”.

Is the minister right? Is hydrogen the future? Tell us your take below. 




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