A new strategy report from an Australian government agency sets out clear steps that could see the country transition to a “hydrogen economy” in the next few decades. The report identifies a plan to achieve a future hydrogen industry in Australia, as well as identifying key challenges and barriers that need to be overcome.
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The National Hydrogen Roadmap
The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) recently produced a National Hydrogen Roadmap for Australia. This document is part of a growing body of work underway to better quantify the opportunities available to global and domestic economies from investment in the burgeoning hydrogen industry.
The roadmap acts as a plan for creating a robust hydrogen industry in Australia over the next 10 years. Strategic investment opportunities are identified to ensure the entirety of the Australian industry can realize the opportunities associated with establishing a hydrogen economy.
The document takes activity in the already established domestic hydrogen industry into account, and details ways to bolster these pre-existing assets for a functioning hydrogen value chain to develop.
A series of investment opportunities that different stakeholder groups are responsible for is identified, with key timeframes underscored to rapidly scale the hydrogen sector. Government bodies, research institutions, and private industry are all expected to invest in hydrogen over the course of the next 10 years.
If investment is made in the timely and coordinated manner set out by the report, CSIRO expects a healthy and robust hydrogen sector – feeding into the rest of Australian industry – to develop in Australia over the next few years.
What are the Benefits of Investing in Hydrogen?
Hydrogen is a versatile energy carrier, and it can also be used as an industrial feedstock for manufacturing. Unlike fossil fuels typically used for these purposes, hydrogen can be produced and consumed with minimal environmental damage incurred.
It is made by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen. This is an energy-intensive process that must be powered with renewable sources for hydrogen fuel and feedstock to realize its climate-friendly potential. If conventional fossil-fuel-derived energy is used to power hydrogen production, then the end product can contain more embodied carbon per kilowatt-hour of energy supplied than natural gas.
Coupling hydrogen production with on-site renewable power generation solves this problem and results in cleaner or “green” hydrogen being produced. Solar, wind, hydro, or geothermal energy capture may be appropriate depending on local environmental conditions.
“Blue” hydrogen is another way to limit the negative consequences of large amounts of energy required for producing hydrogen. Blue hydrogen is produced in a plant that carries out total carbon capture and sequestration so that no greenhouse gases are emitted (or a net negative amount after carbon capture is taken into account).
Challenges Facing the Hydrogen Industry
Hydrogen has started to see uses in industry, for example, as shipping fuel or manufacturing feedstock. Its potential applications in a wider range of sectors such as transportation and residential heating have yet to be realized, however.
Lack of supporting infrastructure is a primary barrier to Australia achieving a hydrogen economy (one in which hydrogen replaces fossil fuels such as natural gas). For many customers and industries, it is simply too impractical to switch to hydrogen as production and distribution cannot keep up with their energy demands.
Cost is another barrier to hydrogen’s widespread adoption. Other energy carriers such as batteries and feedstocks like natural gas are much cheaper.
CSIRO includes recommendations for Australia to create a policy framework that will create a “market pull” for hydrogen in the country. Investment and incentives in the wide number of sectors that could be utilizing hydrogen but are not yet will see positive results for the hydrogen industry supplying a new demand.
If these sectors increase demand for hydrogen, then the hydrogen industry will be able to invest in the infrastructure, production, storage, and transportation that enable it to meet larger-scale demand for less cost.
Increasing the production of hydrogen will also contribute to significant economies of scale, according to the report. This is because hydrogen production is currently operating at relatively small scales – consistent demand will alter this.
References and Further Reading
CSIRO (2018). National Hydrogen Roadmap. [Online] Available at: https://www.csiro.au/