Australia Maps Research Needed for Billion Dollar Hydrogen Industry


Published Dec 2, 2019 1:57 AM by The Maritime Executive

A report from Australia's national science agency, CSIRO, has mapped the critical research steps Australia must take to realize a hydrogen industry it says is potentially worth A$11 billion ($7.5 billion) a year by 2050.

The report Hydrogen Research Development & Demonstration (RD&D): Priorities and Opportunities for Australia found investing in research could solve industry challenges to create five key national opportunities: hydrogen exports; integration of hydrogen into gas networks; transport; electricity systems and industrial processes.

Hydrogen has a very low volumetric density as an unpressurized gas, making it uneconomical to transport in this way. The report highlights a research opportunity to develop, test and demonstrate of various hydrogen storage systems and carrier ships for export and hydrogen storage and transport mechanisms to deliver hydrogen from production facilities to loading ports. 

Australia’s current hydrogen research footprint includes 23 institutions actively exploring hydrogen in various technology and research areas as well as another 23 hydrogen-specific demonstration projects and research facilities around Australia.

Research is already underway to develop cheaper ways of producing hydrogen via a range of methods:

• Electrolysis – An electric current is applied to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gas streams.
• Fossil fuel conversion – Elevated temperatures are used to generate hydrogen and a range of possible by-products from a fossil fuel resource (natural gas, coal, or oil).
• Biomass and waste conversion – Elevated temperatures are used to produce hydrogen and other products from biomass or municipal waste streams.
• Direct hydrogen carrier production – Instead of producing hydrogen, a chemical hydrogen carrier is synthesized directly from feedstock other than hydrogen. The chemical carrier can be utilised directly in some applications or used as a means to store and distribute hydrogen which can later be extracted for use.
• Thermal water splitting – Elevated temperatures are used for the direct or chemically-assisted splitting of water into hydrogen and oxygen gas streams.
• Biological hydrogen production – Biological materials, pathways, or systems photosynthesize or convert organic matter to produce hydrogen and other products.
• Photochemical and photocatalytic processes – Sunlight is used by photovoltaic or photocatalytic materials, which split water into hydrogen and oxygen gas streams, without the use of an external electric circuit.

The report offers a range of potential uses for the hydrogen, including the opportunity to decarbonize harder-to-abate sectors such as steel-making. While other pathways exist to reduce energy and emissions, like the replacement or blending of coking coal with charcoal from biomass, new steel-making processes using clean hydrogen could enable a 98 percent reduction in emissions. For example, the HYBRIT project in Sweden being undertaken by SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall involves using hydrogen for direct reduction of iron rather than the traditional blast furnace processing. The first commercial plant expected to be operational by 2035.

A key area for on-going research is anticipated to be enabling Australia’s domestic and export hydrogen industries. The Economic Research Institute for ASEAN has forecast that Australia could supply 42 percent of East Asia’s hydrogen demand by 2040, and the IEA calculates that given its natural resources, Australia could produce nearly 100 million tonnes of oil equivalent of hydrogen. In a report commissioned by ARENA, ACIL Allen valued exports in 2040 ranging from $2.6 billion to $13.4 billion.

The report was sponsored by the Department of Innovation, Industry and Science, the Victorian Government, Woodside, BHP, ARENA and Origin.

The report is available here.