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Eastern states will combine to develop “hydrogen highways”, investing an initial $20m to build a refuelling network to accelerate the decarbonisation of heavy transport.

The network, to supply hydrogen created from renewable energy sources, will provide the fuel initially on the Hume, Pacific and Newell highways.

The Labor states of Queensland and Victoria will sign memorandums of understanding with Coalition-led NSW to coordinate the rollout of hydrogen on the nation’s busiest major roads.

Cars and light vehicles are likely to be easier to electrify than heavy vehicles such as trucks and buses, where hydrogen may be a more viable alternative than batteries.

“Renewable hydrogen will increasingly become a competitive zero emissions fuel option for our heavy transport sector, giving our trucking industry the opportunity to decarbonise their fleets,” NSW’s treasurer and energy minister, Matt Kean, said.

His Victorian counterpart as energy and climate minister, Lily D’Ambrosio, said renewable hydrogen highway would “create new jobs, drive investment across the east coast and is a landmark step towards meeting Victoria’s target to halve emissions by 2030 and reach net-zero by 2050”.

Queensland’s Mick de Brenni, who has hydrogen and energy among his ministerial titles, stressed the development of green hydrogen as a national security issue, “to shield our nation from foreign companies and foreign powers”.

“Low-emissions electricity and hydrogen-fuelled heavy transport will sit at the heart of the renewable energy ecosystem,” he said. “Transport is the fastest growing sector for emissions and ironically it could also be the key to reducing them.”

Victoria and NSW will tip in $10m each to build at least four renewable hydrogen refuelling stations between Sydney and Melbourne. There will also be grants for the country’s first long-haul hydrogen fuel-cell electric freight trucks.

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