One of Australia’s leading hydrogen fuel cell vehicle manufacturers, H2X Global (H2X), is gearing up for a stellar year with the launch of its extended-range hydrogen-powered Warrego ute during the next quarter.
Securing more than $50 million in pre-orders from enthusiastic early adopters, the Warrego can drive 750 kilometres before needing to refuel its 220KW motor, can reach speeds of 150kph, and accelerates to 100kph in eight seconds.
Demonstrating that ‘clean fuel cells’, H2X recently expanded its operations in Scandinavia after signing an agreement with one of Sweden’s major municipal waste companies Renova.
The Sydney-headquartered company will provide hydrogen fuel cell-powered trucks and light vehicles to the city of Gothenburg, in a deal that H2X believes will pave the way for it to develop and produce vehicles for the wider Scandinavian transport industry in the future.
“It’s a really good deal; it provides us with a starting point to build a couple of vehicles for their garbage facilities, but it also introduces us to a lot of different activities that we'll do with them,” founding team leader and CEO Brendan Norman tells Business News Australia.
“They've got quite a large fleet of vehicles behind them, and there are more than 500 vehicles, so it's a matter of us doing the job properly and making the right sort of relationship with them, so we can then go ahead and invest in growing that business very strongly.
“Our team has worked on some garbage trucks on behalf of other companies before; however, this one is on a different power level than the previous. But if we increase the power levels, that'll give us a great opportunity to show what we can do and then really push forward to see what can happen when we do these jobs.”
H2X will provide Renova with five commercial vehicles from the H2X range, including an 18-tonne back loader truck, a 28-tonne demountable truck and three 3.5-tonne tail-lift vehicles.
With manufacturing bases in Australia, India, Malaysia, and Scandinavia, the business is quickly moving towards its target of entrenching itself within 12 to 15 cities, where it can bed down and provide an appropriate after-sales environment for the first 24 months.
“The growing interest in hydrogen fuel cell technology in Europe has accelerated as the need to find alternatives to natural gas and oil increase with tensions in Europe’s north,” H2X chief design officer Chris Reitz said.
“We know that all of Europe is watching how Sweden and its neighbours adopt renewables, and we are very grateful to be included in the planning at this early stage.
“Our unique competence combining both a scalable hydrogen powertrain solution with internal Automotive knowledge enables us to tailor hydrogen-powered vehicles to the needs and specifications of our customers."
Registered as a business in Australia in 2021, H2X is the culmination of CEO Brendan Norman’s journey in car manufacturing to date, an industry he has worked in since the early 1990s.
Having previously held senior management roles within the automotive industry at BMW, Volkswagen and Audi, which took him to countries including Australia, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Saudi Arabia and China, Norman’s introduction to the hydrogen industry came after he was approached to act in an advisory capacity for UK hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric car manufacturer Riversimple in 2009.
After assisting with Riversimple’s launch in 2016, Norman and his business partner Chris Reitz were approached by Chinese investors to set up a fuel cell car company, known as Grove Hydrogen Automotive (Grove), in Wuhan in 2016.
Following the successful launch of Grove, the business faltered following the economic crisis in Wuhan in 2019. At that point, Norman and Reitz left to establish a more international and sustainable hydrogen focused vehicle company in Australia.
Initially raising $10 million in capital funding through long-held contacts, Norman’s design-focused business amalgamated with a separate group that were long time acquaintances but independently working on powertrains.
Once it was established that the vehicle designs fit with the powertrain and the idea worked well as a concept for what the company was trying to achieve in Australia, the two ideas were merged within a short space of time.
H2X has two key operating divisions; one is designing and delivering the powertrain systems to heavy equipment and stationary power applications; the second develops and delivers multiple light equipment vehicles using a proprietary H2X fuel cell and powertrain system.
“When we refer to hydrogen, we're talking about the tanks that store the hydrogen – so the energy is within the hydrogen in those tanks,” Norman told Business News Australia in 2020.
“The hydrogen is then passed into a fuel cell; the fuel cell then converts the hydrogen into electric energy. A little bit of water will come out, but the electric energy is passed either directly to the motors or into a battery or supercapacitor, depending on the vehicle's operation mode.
“If it's accelerating, we generally use electric power from the battery plus the fuel cell power directly; when it's cruising, we tend to use the fuel cell so that it will do different sorts of things at different times.”
Sitting behind operational teams dispersed across the globe is a development team of 30 people. The sales and design activities are mainly carried out in Barcelona, with more than 100 people now working for the company and more to come onboard soon as the business continues to scale.
‘We have a whole team that can develop cars, and that's part of the core of what makes us a little bit different to some of our competitors, in that we are a car company and then we've bought in a team who can do the development of the vehicles,” Norman said.
“It's turned out to be quite a good approach because we've got a team who can provide us with the background. We're doing things differently from most other car companies - we're using a different sort of approach in the way we're putting chassis together, for example.
Focused on absolute sustainability, H2X concentrates on harnessing the most efficient and effective technologies, with the onus on capturing free and renewable energy sources.
Working with hydrogen infrastructure providers and commercial operators to establish cost-effective ecosystems from the start, the automotive and power unit company specialises in medium distance (300-600km) vehicles that are efficient to run.
EV versus Hydrogen
“There's one big difference between hydrogen and electric cars, and that is that hydrogen vehicles can turn up, refuel and leave within three minutes, so it is a completely different ballgame in terms of the distribution we can have,” Norman explained when asked about advantages of hydrogen-powered vehicles in 2020.
“We don't need as many locations simply because of the time needed by the vehicle to refuel, so the idea is generally that you have a similar sort of operation as the petrol stations.
“You can see that Shell, and these types of companies, are getting into the hydrogen story because it's an extension of their business model into the future and very convenient for people. As well as their petrol products, they can offer hydrogen products, which means there's no need to have different heavy infrastructures put in place for vehicles overnight.”
Norman foresees that on a typical day, a hydrogen delivery van, or taxi, would be used for a six-hour shift before refuelling, which could be completed within three minutes. The vehicle could then be put back on the road with a driver change, essentially for permanent use.
In October 2021, H2X announced plans to build hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles in Gippsland, Victoria, which will be their second facility after initially setting up in Port Kembla in New South Wales.
Under the agreement with the Gippsland Circular Economy Precinct (GCEP), a consortium of businesses that recognise the need to transition the local economy from brown coal power generation to renewables, H2X will manufacture hydrogen fuel cells, electrolysers, hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles and a range of hydrogen power units including generators and emergency power supplies in the region.
Outside of Australia, the business is targeting the growing hydrogen fuel cell transport markets in the emerging key regions of China, North America, Europe, North Asia and Scandinavia.
The business’ initial focus turned very heavily towards the southern part of Europe, where initially, there was a lot of swift movement. When that interest faded, H2X pulled back and pivoted towards India, Malaysia, and Scandinavia.
Norman acknowledges there’s less interest from a media lens perspective in these geographic areas, but they offer the business a perfect breeding ground to entirely focus on the product.
H2X signed a preferred supplier agreement with Pure Hydrogen (ASX: PH2) in 2021, with Pure Hydrogen now being the preferred supplier of hydrogen to H2X. As part of the agreement, Pure Hydrogen became the largest shareholder in H2X earlier this year with a 24 per cent stake, which could increase to 48 per cent if the attached share options are exercised.
PH2 shares alone have more than doubled since the deal was announced in October.
Building on their success since founding H2X, Norman and Reitz were invited to share their innovations at the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow last year.
“We were able to introduce what we were doing to different people and talk to what was really an amazing group of people because they're from all sorts of different walks of life, saying all sorts of different things,” Norman said.
“When we're able to talk to them about where we are and what we're doing, I think it surprised a few people in terms of how deeply we've been looking at it, from the point of view of the car industry, which is quite different to some of the other players that come from other areas.
“We're seeing that there's a need for the vehicles to be done in a different direction, and by seeing us take steps and approach it in the way that we're doing it, we think that it's quite a cool solution because the approach is basically to go out there using the advantages that we have with hydrogen.”
The expectation is that the price of hydrogen will reduce significantly in the future. The Australian Commonwealth Government set a target for hydrogen to cost A$2.80 per kilogram by 2030. This means refuelling a 6.2-kilogram tank could cost as little as A$17.50.
“There's a bunch of other vehicles that we're going to have by the end of this year, including the trucks and some bus activities that will help kick us off,” Norman says.
“There's definitely a cost issue, but what we're doing is pushing the price down, and we’ve seen the price come down a lot over the last 24 months - the cost of some of the key units has gone from $1800 to $300 per kilowatt.
“We're getting ourselves to a situation where we can start to become a lot more cost-effective, a lot more quickly than we planned, so that's a pretty good position that we're in.”
A specialisation in hydrogen is the basis of H2X’s growth; however, with a strong platform as a maker of electrically powered vehicles, the company has a versatile approach to finding the right vehicle for the right task.
“We do have some vehicles where we are looking at having battery-operated operations in some areas, which we think can be quite positive because there are certain functions where battery functions work better,” Norman says.
“However, one of the most exciting things about what we're doing is mainly around the body and how we're putting the vehicle together. You'll see a lot more work with high tech composites in the body; that will be a key for us.
“We'll be using some materials that haven't been seen on vehicles before, and we're pretty excited about what we can do with that. We want to make a vehicle that is a lot safer and can do things in a lot smarter way than some of the industry has done in the past and really create some cool results.”
Spurred on by the US$12 billion Nasdaq electric vehicle maker Rivian Automotive raised in November 2021, H2X is working towards an IPO within the next 12 months.
However, if the market conditions are favourable, he’s not averse to having a “crack” at it in 2022.
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