Blueprint Prepared for Australia's Hydrogen Trade


Published Aug 22, 2018 8:33 PM by The Maritime Executive

Australia has the potential for an economically-sustainable hydrogen industry, according to a blueprint released by national science agency CSIRO.

Hydrogen is a clean-burning fuel with a range of uses from powering vehicles to storing energy, and if produced using low-emissions energy sources, it could facilitate decarbonization across the energy and industrial sectors.

The Roadmap indicates that hydrogen technologies are reaching maturity, with the narrative now shifting from R&D to market activation. By around 2025, clean hydrogen could be cost-competitive with existing industrial feedstocks such as natural gas and energy carriers such as batteries in many applications. The Roadmap states that an appropriate policy framework could create market pull for hydrogen, with investment in infrastructure then likely to follow. 

Australia has long been dependent on imported liquid fuels and is currently not meeting domestic fuel reserve targets. Hydrogen could play a key role in protecting Australia from supply shocks by localizing liquid fuel supplies (e.g. by producing synthetic fuels) or by displacing their use in both stationary and transport applications. Hydrogen could also help manage the transition to a higher proportion of variable renewable electricity in the electricity network by overcoming challenges associated with energy intermittency. 

Additionally, hydrogen presents a new export opportunity for Australia and could play a significant role in enabling the further uptake of renewable energy. CSIRO Chief Executive Dr. Larry Marshall said: "Australia has a unique and urgent opportunity to turn significant natural resources, including coal, gas, and renewables like solar and wind energy, into a low-emissions energy product and ship it around the world – in some cases literally exporting Aussie sunshine.”

Australia has a history of exporting its natural resources. However, some of these markets, for example uranium, have suffered downturns as a consequence of a changing energy mix abroad. Others such as thermal coal, could be at risk in the future if global trends continue to lead towards a low carbon economy.

In contrast, the global market for hydrogen is expected to reach $155 billion by 2022, with a number of Australia’s existing trading partners, such as Japan, who are comparatively resource constrained, currently implementing policy commitments for hydrogen imports and use. The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has already announced A$1.5 million ($1.1 million) to fund Australia’s first green hydrogen innovation hub at Jandakot in Western Australia with an eye for the Japanese market.

Potential demand for imported hydrogen in China, Japan, South Korea and Singapore could reach in the order of 3.8 million tons in 2030. Commercial scale production of hydrogen from brown coal in Victoria is likely to be available after 2030, so the majority of prior demand is expected to be met by electrolysis coupled with dedicated renewables or grid connected electricity. 

Hydrogen may be produced via two mature pathways:

Thermochemical: Uses a fossil fuel feedstock to produce hydrogen. This process must be paired with carbon capture and storage to produce clean hydrogen. Mature technologies include steam methane reforming which relies on natural gas as an input and coal gasification

Electrochemical: Involves the use of an electrical current to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. This process requires the use of low or zero emissions electricity to produce clean hydrogen. Mature technologies include polymer electrolyte membrane and alkaline electrolysis.

Selection of the most appropriate storage technology represents a trade-off between the quantity of hydrogen, storage footprint (e.g. tank size) and energy usage. Compression of gaseous hydrogen generally represents the most attractive option for stationary storage given the comparatively lower cost and greater availability of space. Other storage technologies including liquefaction and material carriers such as ammonia. Hydrogen can be transported via truck, rail, ship and pipeline using these storage techniques.