Hydrogen cars for New Zealand?


On the television the other night I saw an advert from Hyundai about a new car that they are working on. It is NEXO. The ad shows a four wheel drive vehicle mounted and claims that the only emissions coming out are water.

If these claims by Hyundai are true then this is quite revolutionary. It offers a potential carbon free fuel cell option for cars. Hydrogen’s volatility is well known – the Hindenburg airship was filled with it and exploded in flames when struck by lightning in Paris – but because hydrogen is lighter than air it will have no problems dissipating, which is important because it to reduce likelihood of the fuel catching fire should the tank be punctured. But, in terms of climate change, hydrogen has NO carbon attached. It is simply H.

This raises a very interesting point to a topic of interest at the moment in New Zealand. What if Tiwai point is shut down because the owners cannot get a satisfactory deal for electricity? Tiwai Point gets its electricity from Manapouri power station deep in Fiordland and that electricity is not minor – Manapouri generates about 850 megawatts, of which about 530 megawatts are used by Tiwai point. All of this is electricity that would flood the market if it were no longer required and – some people honestly hope – will bring down power prices.

But this is not a new problem – it has been threatened before that the Tiwai Point facility will shut at some point and a whole lot of hemming and hawing has gone on about what to do with the electricity should it all be released to the market. I personally think it should be, but I am aware that hundreds of jobs – quite well paying ones at that in many instances – would be on the line.

IBut back to the hydrogen question. Is Tiwai Point actually seriously likely to close? If Tiwai Point aluminium smelter were to close and hydrogen vehicles did become a credible alternative to fossil fuel powered cars, it would be a useful location to establish a hydrogen plant. It would potentially maintain many of the jobs that would probably be lost if the smelter were to close, thereby continuing to provide a large source of employment to the Invercargill/Southland electorates.

With an election not more than 12 months away, supporting the development of hydrogen as a fuel source for cars in New Zealand is a great opportunity for which ever party has the gonads to try something different. Electric vehicles are not only hitting a bit of a stumbling block over price and fuel consumption, but also having to confront the fact that most New Zealanders simply cannot afford one. Could hydrogen fuel cell vehicles fill the void?

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