From alternatives and derivatives to expletives; how hydrogen is fuelling the climate debate.

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In the next decade, there’s going to be a major change.

It will affect the way the entire world does business.

It’s called the energy transition.

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For the first time in human history, rather than looking for additional fuel sources to boost our industries, we will be seeking to phase out certain types of fuels and replace them with greener, cleaner options.

 

Hydrogen is one of them. But it’s a fuel many are familiar with.

However, the extent to which hydrogen will play a role in the future energy transition is a matter of some debate.

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First, let’s tackle a common misconception about hydrogen:

It’s a discussion fuelled by a combination of common misconceptions and some very real challenges that will need to be solved if hydrogen is to hit the mainstream.

In this article, we dig a little deeper into the subject of hydrogen. Along the way, we highlight the challenges, set right the misconceptions and turn to some of the country’s most eminent scientists for answers to some important questions.

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Hydrogen is too flammable to use as a fuel. Petrol and gas are far more suited to the task.

Actually, hydrogen stacks up pretty favourably against petrol and gas. Hydrogen has almost 3 times more energy density than either, is less likely to ignite in the event of a leak and produces water when it burns. 

In other words, hydrogen is about as safe to use as petrol and gas. It’s also non-toxic.

 

In fact, if it wasn’t for two major challenges, which we’ll go into later on, our homes, industries and transport sectors would already be knee-deep in hydrogen

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Hydrogen isn’t clean, it’s produced by burning fossil fuels.

Almost all of today’s hydrogen is produced using fossil fuels—not because it’s the only way, but because it’s currently the cheapest. We call this ‘brown hydrogen’.

 

Green hydrogen is the product of electrolysis (on water) that is powered by renewable energy. 

 

In the coming years, as the cost of both renewable energy and electrolysers falls, green hydrogen will become more competitive.

 

And if we can supply consumers and businesses with a viable, green competitor to fossil fuels there’s every chance they’ll make the change.

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However, some believe the simplest solution is just to electrify everything.

But, in itself, that is a misconception. The world already produces 115 million tonnes of hydrogen each year for use in industrial processes. This is not a role that can be filled by electricity.

 

In other sectors, it’s going to be horses for courses. Hydrogen won’t be the best solution for everything, but neither will electricity.

 

In fact, renewable generation and hydrogen production sit very comfortably alongside each other. By storing electrons from large-scale renewable energy projects as hydrogen or hydrogen carriers (ammonia, methanol, etc.), we can widen the reach of renewable power and repurpose it for use in other sectors, while still ensuring that excess capacity is available for use as electricity if the need arises.

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Hydrogen is difficult to store and transport.

There’s no question this is true. Hydrogen has a very high energy density per weight, but very low energy density per volume.

 

In order to store enough hydrogen to fuel a car for a 300-mile journey – around 5kg – you’d need a 150 – 200 litre fuel tank. 

And if we are going to store it as a liquid, it needs to be cooled to -250°C

But that doesn’t mean it can’t be stored and transported. While we’re already starting to see shipments of liquid hydrogen (they can be controversial!), the answer is probably more likely to lie in hydrogen derivatives like ammonia. 

 

The advantage of shipping hydrogen as ammonia is that there is already a mature, global supply chain.

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So how is the Government helping to make it happen?

Hydrogen is one of five priority low-emission technologies that have been identified under the Australian Government’s Technology Investment Roadmap.

 

As a collective, our governments have so far pumped more than AUD 1 billion into establishing a clean hydrogen industry in Australia.

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So where are we on the journey?

Across the world, there is currently 300 MW capacity of active electrolysers churning out hydrogen and another 16,700 MW in the pipeline. 

 

In Australia, we have 70 active and planned clean hydrogen projects in the pipeline. There’s no question we have begun our journey.

Electrification could only be considered as a solution to climate change once renewable energy began to make significant inroads into the generation mix.

It’s the same for hydrogen. 

Is it a fuel that will help us on our journey to net-zero if it’s not clean?

Of course not. 

 

But there’s serious effort and funding occurring right now to make hydrogen clean.

And while hydrogen is not going to be the answer to everything, everywhere there’s no denying it has an important role to play in the transition away from fossil fuels.

 
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Why is hydrogen export important?

In short, it’s about opportunity.

 

International studies acknowledge Australia has the renewable energy resources and capacity to become a clean hydrogen export powerhouse. And a study by the Federal Government found that Australia has the potential to export up to 500,000 tonnes of hydrogen by 2030.

Establishing a hydrogen export industry would create thousands of new jobs and add billions of dollars to GDP as we transition away from exporting fossil fuels.

To find out more about the hydrogen debate, contact the GlobH2E – HySupply Team by emailing r.daiyan@unsw.edu.au

Acknowledgements.

 

We would like to acknowledge funding from the following organisations:

  • Australian Research Council (for the ARC Training Centre for the Global Hydrogen Economy (IC200100023)

  • Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT)

  • Australia-Germany Hydrogen Value Chain Feasibility Study (HySupply)

  • NSW Government (for the NSW P2X Industry Feasibility Study grant)

 

Credits:

Content: Humanwrites

Design: An Altered Aspect

References:

 

 [1] Draft_HySupply Preliminary Roadmapping Exercise 

 [2] https://www.forbes.com/sites/rrapier/2020/06/06/estimating-the-carbon-footprint-of-hydrogen-production/?sh=64f3d4f924bd

 [3] https://www.nationalgrid.com/stories/energy-explained/hydrogen-colour-spectrum

 [4] https://www.awa.asn.au/resources/latest-news/environment/natural-environment/new-data-maps-worlds-most-water-stressed-

 [5] https://www.energynetworks.com.au/resources/fact-sheets/reliable-and-clean-gas-for-australian-homes/#:~:text=Gas%20distribution%20networks%20connect%20around,of%20household%20energy%20per%20year.

 [6] https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/hydrogen-trial-tests-case-for-clean-energy-6r90cnmrn

 [7] https://about.bnef.com/blog/hydrogen-10-predictions-for-2022/

 [8] https://arena.gov.au/assets/2021/05/stanwell-hydrogen-project-feasibility-study.pdf