IN 1972, academic professor John Bockris of South Australia’s Flinders University coined the term "hydrogen economy" in Science Magazine.1 As the decades and technological advancements progressed, hydrogen’s role as a potential solution to Australia’s ‘energy trilemma’ – balancing energy affordability, security, and sustainability – has gathered momentum.
Global demand for hydrogen is increasing as a carbon-free fuel for transport, power and heating. Energy-hungry nations such as Japan and the Republic of Korea are seeking to utilise hydrogen to reduce their reliance on imported fossil fuels.
As an energy export superpower to the Asia-Pacific region, the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the World Energy Council have declared that Australia has the potential to be the world’s largest hydrogen producer.
Australia is leading a considerable amount of work – both globally and domestically – seeking to quantify the economic opportunities associated with hydrogen.2 The IEA suggests Australia could produce the equivalent of 100m t of oil in hydrogen per year3, and the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia forecasts Australia to export 42% of regional supply to East Asia by 2040.
As one of the world’s leading jurisdictions in renewable energy development, with over 51% renewable electricity generation in 2018, South Australia has a fundamental competitive advantage in renewable hydrogen production arising from coincidental, complementary and high quality wind and solar resources. This advantage is shared domestically only with the south-west of Western Australia and small pockets of Queensland.
South Australia was the first Australian jurisdiction to showcase its land and infrastructure, abundance of renewable energy resources and experience in developing cutting-edge energy projects – such as the world’s largest lithium-ion battery – through the release of the "Hydrogen Roadmap for South Australia" in September 2017.
In December 2018, Australia’s Chief Scientist Alan Finkel achieved the endorsement of the Council of Australian Government’s Energy Council to develop an ambitious "National Hydrogen Strategy" for consideration by the Council at the end of 2019.
The Strategy has the aim of building a clean, innovative and competitive hydrogen industry that benefits all Australians and is a major global player by 2030.
As Finkel explains in the COAG White Paper "Hydrogen for Australia’s Future", the impetus to decarbonise many countries’ economies has combined with the price of solar and wind electricity dropping a hundredfold in the decades since the concept of the hydrogen economy was coined. Australia’s near-neighbours are looming as major and enduring customers.
Through its "Basic Hydrogen Strategy", Japan has established measurable objectives to showcase hydrogen’s production and use to the world at the Tokyo Olympic Games in mid-2020 and beyond. Similarly, the Republic of Korea released its "Hydrogen Economy Roadmap" in early 2019, outlining its vision to become the world’s leading hydrogen economy, including its evolution from a country of fossil resources to a major, eco-friendly producer of hydrogen fuel.
The South Australian Government has invested more than A$15m (US$10.4m) in grants and A$27.5m in loans to scaling up its renewable hydrogen production industry.
These projects include:
The projects target a range of end uses such as gas injection, transport, ammonia, and grid security services, and one project is to construct a testing facility with hydrogen consumed on-site.
Australian Gas Networks (AGN), part of the Australian Gas Infrastructure Group (AGIG), received A$4.9m from the South Australian Government for a A$11.4m hydrogen electrolyser demonstration project at the Tonsley Innovation District in Adelaide.
AGN owns gas distribution and transmission networks across Australia, including in South Australia. In the short term, AGN plans to blend 5% renewable hydrogen with natural gas for supply to customers using its existing gas distribution networks. This is a milestone first step towards decarbonising the gas networks.
The project will involve Australia’s largest 1.25 MW Siemens proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolyser that will use 100% renewable energy electricity contracted through a Power Purchase Agreement to produce renewable hydrogen.
The demonstration facility will inform the technical and economic feasibility of injecting hydrogen into a gas network more broadly in South Australia. It is also expected to show how electrolysers can be integrated into electricity networks to support energy stability, as more renewable energy generation capacity comes onto the grid.
Having completed the front-end engineering and design study and ordered the Siemens electrolyser, AGN is now working towards securing regulatory and development approvals, procuring land, and undertaking community and stakeholder consultation.
AGN aims to have the project operating in mid-2020. The installation of tube and trailer filling facilities is being considered as an expansion opportunity to Hydrogen Park SA, which will enable hydrogen to be transported and injected into other points in the network, as well as industry refuelling and export.
AGN is also investigating working with Australian and South Australian Governments and industry to establish the Australian Hydrogen Centre, to maximise its investment in and findings from the project.
The University of South Australia is building a A$8.7m facility incorporating a solar installation, flow batteries, a hydrogen fuel cell stack and thermal energy storage at its Mawson Lakes campus.
The project – which attracted A$3.6m from the South Australian Government – aims to produce data to support multi-disciplinary research projects (such as optimising performance, economics, and energy and emissions) in hydrogen, battery storage and solar technologies. Produced energy will supplement campus needs especially at periods of peak demand.
UniSA announced the project in 2017, as building one of the largest flow battery and hydrogen fuel cells in any Australian university. It will feature solar panels on 18 buildings at Mawson Lakes, one hectare of ground-mounted solar panels, and 1.8m L of thermal energy storage.
The facility, to be completed during 2019, aims to increase the availability of zero-carbon renewable energy, and reduce pressure on the local electricity network and the likelihood of power cuts on the campus.
Partnering with Australian renewable energy companies, UniSA expects the facility to provide more than 250 MWh of electrical storage annually, reducing the campus’s peak electrical load by 43%, cutting its emissions by 35% and making renewable energy available on demand. Annual energy savings are expected to be around A$470,000.
The Crystal Brook Energy Park development is a renewable energy project that combines storage, solar and wind, located approximately 3 km north of Crystal Brook in South Australia. The park is a 275 MW renewable energy facility with up to 125 MW of wind generation comprising 26 turbines, 150 MW of solar PV and 130 MW/400 MWh of battery storage with a purpose built sub-station to deliver the power back into the South Australian grid.
Neoen has completed an initial feasibility study for an A$600m renewable hydrogen production facility that would be located at the energy park. The proposed 50 MW Hydrogen Superhub would be the largest co-located wind, solar, battery and hydrogen production facility in the world, with the potential to produce around 25 t/d of hydrogen using 100% renewable energy.
Hydrogen infrastructure company Hydrogen Utility (H2U) is developing a 30 MW electrolysis plant to generate hydrogen and ammonia using 100% renewable energy at Port Lincoln on the tip of Eyre Peninsula in regional South Australia. The project is anticipated to provide balancing services to the national electricity system and fast frequency response support to new solar plants on the Eyre Peninsula.
H2U’s proposed A$117.5m green hydrogen and ammonia demonstration plant – to be situated near local wind farms and planned solar plants – will include a 30 MW electrolyser plant, a 50 t/d ammonia production facility, and a 16 MW hydrogen-fired gas turbine which will supply power to the grid. The ammonia will be used for the local industrial and agriculture markets and to support development of a new export industry.
South Australia has attracted the 8th International Conference on Hydrogen Safety to be held in Adelaide, Australia on 24-26 September 2019. The conference will be jointly delivered with HySafe – the International Association for Hydrogen Safety, which is the focal point for all hydrogen safety related issues – and facilitate networking for the further development and dissemination of knowledge, and coordination of research activities in the field of hydrogen safety.
The conference is the premier hydrogen risk management event globally and the first seven conferences, held between 2005 to 2017, succeeded in attracting the most relevant experts from all over the world. The experts provide an open platform for the presentation and discussion of new findings, information and data on hydrogen safety – from basic research to applied development and from good practice to standardisation and regulatory issues.
Themes for the Adelaide conference include the physical properties and behaviours of hydrogen, and how they must be considered in energy-related innovation, including the benefits and risks related to hydrogen development; regulation codes and standards for transporting and exporting hydrogen; and how to educate and engage stakeholder groups and communities about hydrogen’s applications and potential in sectors ranging from defence to residential electricity provision.
In South Australia, hydrogen has been a topic of conversation for almost 40 years. This year, it’s expected to dominate discussions across government, industry and the state’s world-recognised tertiary institutions – so perhaps the solution to that "energy trilemma" may soon be within reach.
1. Bockris, J, “A hydrogen economy”, Science, vol 176, issue 4041, 23 June 1972.
2. CSIRO, National Hydrogen Roadmap; Hydrogen for Australia’s Future (Finkel).
3. International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook.
This is the eighth article in a series discussing the challenges and opportunities of the hydrogen economy, developed in partnership with IChemE's Clean Energy Special Interest Group. For more entries visit the series hub.