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Vivas Vision – Inside Viva Energys groundbreaking hydrogen project

Zero-emissions power is the current buzz term in the transport industry. Although some operators may be reluctant to transition their fleets, Viva Energy’s hydrogen refuelling station project may soon turn the tide.

In Viva Energy’s vision for the future, a trip along the Hume Highway will no longer be filled with petrol pumps. Starting with its first New Energies Service Station in Geelong, the energy company is intent on leading the charge when it comes to investing in zero-emissions power sources for the transport industry.

Viva Energy has risen to prominence in sustainable fuel technology as it plans to open a new service station in Geelong solely providing power for hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles in heavy fleets. It’s enough to excite Viva Energy’s alternative fuels manager Sandra Lau.

“Viva Energy was one of the early members of the Australian Hydrogen Council in 2017,” Lau told ATN. “I became the Viva Energy Hydrogen Council representative in mid-2018.

“From a Viva Energy perspective, we see hydrogen as an energy of huge potential. That’s why we started increasing our activities around hydrogen in 2019 and first went public with it not long after.”

Viva’s hydrogen plans first began when the energy company went public with its strategic alliance with Hyzon Motors. This planned hydrogen refuelling station in Geelong is another step forward in Viva’s growth towards alternative fuel sources. By the end of 2023, Viva Energy expects the station to be open and operational for heavy vehicles needing to restock its hydrogen fuel cell levels. 

Widespread benefits

Lau says the new station will benefit more than just fleet owners who have moved to transition their heavy vehicles to hydrogen fuel cell models.

“It’ll be huge, I’m very proud and excited about what the project means,” Lau says. “The local Geelong community will get to reap the dividends of having hydrogen-powered heavy vehicles incorporated into everyday life.

“There are many benefits associated with these vehicles and hydrogen power, including less noise and zero emissions.”

Under Viva’s new pipedream for a hydrogen-filled horizon, Geelong citizens will be able to jump on hydrogen fuel-cell powered buses daily and have hydrogen waste vehicles collect their rubbish bins. Heavy vehicle operators will access to more information about the practical applications of hydrogen and will have the ability to incorporate that knowledge across their fleets as they transition away from fossil fuels.

Lau says the entire transport industry in the Geelong region will benefit when it comes to future planning for zero-emission charging infrastructure. And it all began when Viva first allied with Horizon in February 2021.

“Our thinking was about the role we saw for us in the market – we’re very much a company focused on providing energy solutions to transport operators, so hydrogen energy formed a key part of our mobility goals,” Lau says. “We then commenced work after the alliance on how we structure and design the project so that it fits with what the industry needs.

“To do this, we brought an internal team together to work on the project.”

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Lau says the groundbreaking hydrogen station project has had plenty of challenges. Like others trying to blaze a trail in the hydrogen fuel cell space, both global challenges and natural problems have had to be overcome to continue working on the Geelong service station.

Once the project got off the ground, Lau says Viva’s internal expertise has helped her make good decisions around project approvals and stakeholders. The project reached a massive milestone recently, when Viva Energy announced it had ordered its electrolyser and hydrogen refuelling orders in late July. Now that the equipment packages have been ordered for the station, the dream is becoming a reality. 

Team effort

Lau says the hardest challenge so far when it comes to building a hydrogen refuelling station has been to complete multiple parts simultaneously.

“The hardest challenge for the industry as a whole is that it’s difficult to complete one component by itself,” Lau says. “Our approach was to bring the value chain together, and thankfully we’ve been supported by our foundation partners and government bodies to solve issues as a team.

“It’s difficult to do anything in the hydrogen industry by yourself. Our goals are around how we take this promising new technology and use it as a solution for operators in an everyday way.”

Once the Geelong station comes to fruition and opens as an operating hydrogen station for hydrogen fuel cell heavy vehicles, Viva Energy won’t stop there. Lau says Viva will continue to push for more hydrogen stations to form a network, along with state governments, who are working to plan a nation-wide map of hydrogen refuelling stops.

“We’ve been fairly open with our various stakeholders that Geelong is just the first step in the journey for us,” Lau says. “We’re excited about how we’ve structured our project with operators, alongside governments and other industry members, to bring everyone together on this.

“It puts us in a unique position to leverage what we’ve done together and then replicate it.”

Lau says she’s excited by the recent Hydrogen Highway announcements made by state governments this year, with Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria all planning hydrogen stations along eastern state freight routes. Viva Energy’s Geelong station is included on the blueprint by the state governments.

Although Lau is proud of what Viva Energy has been able to do to date, she wants to see the entire Hydrogen Highway come to life. If so, Viva’s groundbreaking work in the hydrogen sphere may help the entire Australian transport industry transition to zero-emissions power sources.

“We’re excited to see the state governments working together on this,” Lau says. “We see the Hume Highway hydrogen project as a natural next step for us to extend what we do for other operators and partners in other geographies.

“Viva Energy is really excited to be a key part of this important transition.”

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