Bus Industry News, Electric Buses, Hydrogen

Lion Energy leads the way with Port of Brisbane hydrogen hub

Two years ago, Lion Energy decided to investigate the unknown of green hydrogen generation in Australia. Its first hydrogen hub at the Port of Brisbane will be rich reward for a visionary leap of faith into the zero-emissions space

Throughout its history as an oil and gas company, Lion Energy has not been averse to taking calculated risks. Its DNA has been to make investments without necessarily having the oil or gas market there ready to enter.

Whether it be engineering science, geoscience or geophysics, Lion Energy hasn’t been afraid of taking steps and trusting its nous to move forward. Yet what it’s currently doing in the green hydrogen space for Australian bus and coach operators is a whole new leap.

“We’ve been in the production of crude oil (indirectly, fuel for transport) for about 15 years and it’s not an area that intimidates us,” Lion Energy executive chairman Tom Soulsby told ABC.

“Not everyone has the experience to do what we’re doing, but we’re comfortable that we’ll be able to pull this off without incident.”

What Soulsby is talking about is Lion Energy’s latest foray into green hydrogen in Australia.

Two years ago, the oil and gas company decided to look into hydrogen, and it concluded that the hydrogen refuelling market and its take-up for regulated transport vehicles in Australia was an area of opportunity. It saw a chance in a sector beginning to accelerate at a dynamic rate in other countries, piquing the interest of Lion Energy leaders like Soulsby.

The Lion Energy executive chairman, together with executive director Damien Servant, looked at the potential for green hydrogen production in Australia. Their mountain of work paid dividends when they identified a primary target industry for their new fuel – the Queensland bus and coach sector.

Lion Energy director Russell Brimage says there was one particular reason why the Queensland bus industry stood out as the perfect avenue for Lion Energy to begin its hydrogen journey.

“Queensland became a target because the industry is committed to converting its internal combustion engine buses to zero emissions,” Brimage told ABC.

“That technology is being phased out starting 2025, so we identified early that we could play a role in helping with this transition by providing a new option.”

The keen eyes of Soulsby and Servant had found the opening Lion Energy was after – now they just had to find the physical site to begin realising Lion Energy’s hydrogen dreams.

A plethora of meetings with local authorities in the greater Brisbane area found a space that would be best placed to serve green hydrogen to Queensland bus operators – the Port of Brisbane.

Better known for its container, shipping and freight focus, the port also shone like a beacon for Lion Energy’s plans for a hydrogen refuelling station.

“The Port of Brisbane quickly presented itself as the best place for our site location,” Brimage says.

“There’s lots of bus activity in the area that is nearby and it also is close to the heavy truck industry that we want to target down the line.”

Lion Energy quickly got to work to plan its maiden hydrogen production site. Once completed, the site will be the centre of a hub and spoke operation designed to make the distribution of green hydrogen to local operators of hydrogen fuel-cell buses much easier.

The hub and spoke design starts with the Port of Brisbane site, which will be the place for Lion to initiate the delivery of green hydrogen for the city’s bus fleets.

 

Once operators come onboard with Lion Energy, their depots will be supplied with all the hydrogen they require to keep their vehicles refuelled, each depot becoming one of many potential spokes for Lion Energy to deliver hydrogen to.

Brimage says this design will revolutionise the transition to hydrogen fuel-cell buses for Brisbane operators, who will not have to factor in space to produce green hydrogen in their depots. Instead, they will have Lion Energy as the hydrogen-providing partner to deliver hydrogen to them that they can then store and use to fuel buses.

“The bus depots around Brisbane are scattered throughout the area and they can’t afford to have a production facility at each of those,” Brimage says.

“We want to have the multiple production hubs in Brisbane and then distribute the green hydrogen to the areas that show demand, starting with bus depots. We then plan to repeat this in other capital cities in future.

“The concept is a great idea. Our goal is to then have other hubs that feed surrounding areas to minimise the number of production stations and support the local bus and coach operators.”

This idea was first conceived during Soulsby and Servant’s fact-finding missions, where they attended conferences and government authority meetings to keep pushing the boundaries of the sustainable production of hydrogen for heavy vehicles. They also visited successful operations in Europe.

Brimage says Lion Energy is being proactive in its approach and the construction of the Port of Brisbane site is on track to produce something that will be unique in the Australian bus market.

“We’ve had to be the pro-active party in this green hydrogen space,” he says.

“For Australia, we’re certainly an early mover and we’re still learning about how our strategy will work, but the acceleration is dynamic now.”

When the Port of Brisbane hub is ready to begin producing and distributing green hydrogen, it’ll give local operators an alternative zero-emissions power source to alleviate infrastructure issues.

Soulsby says the current state of play with battery electric bus charging infrastructure makes it difficult for operators to electrify their transport fleets due to the lack of available electricity. However, while many companies want to completely electrify their lives, including their depots and buses, the appetite for electricity from the transport industry would be twice the size of the demand coming from household energy.

He says it’s taken 100 years to put together a grid of its current size, yet it needs to be three times as large again to accommodate for the electrification shift as well as household demand.

“None of this is going to happen overnight,” Soulsby says. “In some places, battery electric vehicles will be easier, but for a lot of places hydrogen is a more suitable alternative. Operators like it because of its similarities to diesel.”

Hydrogen refuelling infrastructure, when done in the way Lion Energy is proposing with a hub and spoke model, can have countless benefits. As Soulsby says, its ability to offer a much quicker refuelling time than battery electric chargers makes it more akin to the diesel refilling experience for bus and coach operators.

With the green hydrogen also being generated at the Lion Energy hubs before being transported to depots as spokes, it allows operators to save plenty of space that might have been required for charging infrastructure and better use it to house more vehicles. Compared to a raft of electric chargers, Lion Energy’s model means operators only need to house hydrogen dispensers and storage infrastructure, similar to their current diesel refuelling setup.

Soulsby says that all these infrastructure benefits are also overshadowed by hydrogen’s predominant plus – it removes the burden to recharge buses off the power grid at the depot location and provides a bus range that surpasses the battery electric vehicle range, meaning that fleet management is much more similar to the diesel bus experience for operators and depot impact is minimal.

It’s these important factors that makes Soulsby and the team at Lion Energy confident that hydrogen fuel-cell refuelling infrastructure technology is the way to go for not just the local bus industry, but for the Australian heavy vehicle transport sector as well.

Lion Energy’s Port of Brisbane hub is one of two advanced projects currently being built in Australia for hydrogen refuelling, with the second about to begin construction at Viva Energy’s site in Geelong, Victoria.

Once complete, Lion’s Port of Brisbane space will enable around 40 buses per day to enjoy hydrogen refuelling, with Brisbane buses being the starting point for a national expansion towards the clean power source.

Although Lion Energy’s project looks set to be the first one to officially open, the company has still experienced its fair share of challenges along the way.

Soulsby says the main issue has been getting access to electrons to produce the hydrogen at the depot. This is where Lion’s global expertise has come to the fore.

“One of our strengths is we can shop around for access to grid capacity at the Port of Brisbane,” he says.

“That can take care of accessing the electrons so then we can produce the hydrogen and deliver it accordingly. The opportunities for hydrogen are aplenty if we can position the production of it near the electrons.”

Lion Energy’s way of overcoming this issue in the future is to follow in the Port of Brisbane site’s footsteps with the hub and spoke model. From there, accessing the right electrons to produce green hydrogen becomes easier and more efficient.

Although it’s made breakthroughs in the Australian hydrogen production space, Lion Energy refuses to get ahead of itself.

 

The process of expansion will be simple. Once the Port of Brisbane hub is up and running, spokes can then be constructed after verification of demand. If an operator commits to purchasing a fleet of hydrogen fuel-cell buses, Lion Energy could then move to put in storage and refuelling dispensers on their depots. This would only require around 370 sqm per 40 buses being refuelled a day, limiting the infrastructure footprint.

With two tube trailers coming from a hub nearby, Lion Energy will then replace the hydrogen tanks and circulate them around the system to keep all vehicles refuelled. This system has its own rhythm that Soulsby says alleviates any major safety fears.

“There’s no technology risks in what we’re going to do, everything is already well proven in overseas markets such as the US and China,” Soulsby says.

“We’re going through our safety inspections of our development plans in minute detail for what our plans are for certain instances. They’re well thought-out and meet very high standards.”

From Brimage’s perspective, this hydrogen system has many benefits over battery electric bus infrastructure. He says electric batteries take a substantially longer time to charge and the electric recharging units typically require significant investments and larger amounts of depot space.

“Hydrogen is more like refuelling for diesel vehicles and can be done in between 10-16 minutes,” Brimage says.

“The infrastructure required isn’t anything like what it is for electric charging. Batteries also consume a lot more material in their construction and disposal, whereas hydrogen is made, processed and used without generating greenhouse gases.”

Brimage is confident Lion Energy’s hydrogen production process can work without emitting any greenhouse gases as it creates green hydrogen to revolutionise the Australian transport industry.

Lion’s investment is with the belief that hydrogen is the right way to go in the future as it’s a clean fuel that’s easy to produce once the infrastructure is established.

It may have been a fast ride for Lion Energy since it decided to turn its attention to green hydrogen, but it is clear the team is not ready yet to stop and smell the roses.

Both Soulsby and Brimage say they won’t veer down the way of a proposed hydrogen highway along the east coast of Australia, instead choosing to provide more hubs and spokes supporting back to base businesses as they see fit.

With the Port of Brisbane site expected to start commercial operations next year, expect Lion Energy to be making a name for itself in more and more areas around Australia, servicing bus and potentially coach operators with a technology that is quickly advancing.

“The acceleration is breathtaking, and the bus industry will be the first to benefit from this change,” Soulsby says.

“This Port of Brisbane site will only be our first hub. Once we develop at scale and the demand grows, we’re already looking at other locations in mind in Queensland. New South Wales and Victoria.

“We want to be a leading independent producer and distributor of hydrogen, that’s our goal. It’s as simple as that.”

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