Producing clean and sustainable hydrogen has long been a dream of governments and entrepreneurs. Australia is well positioned to become a global powerhouse for green hydrogen production due to our resources, experience and public demand. With an achievable strategy, we can progress year by year to and effectively transition to clean hydrogen. So, how exactly is green hydrogen produced, what can it be used for, and what can we expect in the near future? We explore these questions below.
There are multiple benefits for developing our hydrogen production capacity. For instance, thousands of potential jobs can be created, and the establishment of a new export industry can be valued in the billions. Australia’s reputation can also be improved, with the world likely approving of the nation’s renewable efforts.
While the dream has not quite become a reality yet, Australia is still in early stages, with the Australian Government having put together a comprehensive plan in the form of Australia’s National Hydrogen Strategy.
In this plan, Australia’s ex-Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel AO, lays out “…a vision for a clean, innovative, safe and competitive hydrogen industry that benefits all Australians and is a major global player by 2030.”
One of the key factors that will determine the success of the project will be technological innovation. Hydrogen production technology needs to make production more affordable, reliable and carbon neutral.
The push for green hydrogen production is not only apparent in the public sector, but the private too. Australian iron ore company Fortescue has committed to green hydrogen production, developing technologies to decarbonise and build a global renewable energy project portfolio. Additionally, Fortescue has pledged to produce 15 million tonnes of green hydrogen by 2030.
As stated on their website, “Fortescue will use green hydrogen to decarbonise our company’s mining and shipping fleet. We’ve announced a goal to reach real zero by 2030, positioning the company as a leader in addressing the global climate change challenge. Producing green hydrogen is key to achieving this goal.”
Woodside Energy is also dedicated to hydrogen production, with four major hydrogen projects currently underway in Perth, Tasmania, Oklahoma and Southland, New Zealand. The company has stated that, “We are looking at opportunities for both hydrogen from natural gas with process emissions abated, and hydrogen produced using renewable energy".
Three ways green hydrogen is produced
This process involves using electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, which takes place in a unit called an electrolyser.
This process involves converting organic carbonaceous materials (carbon-heavy materials) at high temperatures into carbon monoxide, hydrogen and carbon dioxide.
3. Steam methane reforming
In this process, methane and steam react in the presence of a catalyst to produce hydrogen, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide.
Green hydrogen use cases
There are many potential use cases for green hydrogen, from decentralised power stations to aviation and marine transport. Hydrogen fuel cells can power electric cars and trucks, which use fuel cells to power their motors instead of relying on a lithium-ion battery pack. Hydrogen cars don’t produce harmful emissions, with the only by-product being water vapour. There are even hydrogen powered cars on the market today, with some popular models including the Hyundai Nexo and the Toyota Mirai.
Hydrogen can also eventually be used as a substitute for gas for cooking at home and heating homes, eliminating the harmful emissions traditional gas sources can produce in homes. Ammonia made from hydrogen can power container ships and turn iron ore into green steel, and can also be used to produce green steel by reducing iron ore without emitting carbon dioxide.
These are just some of the potential use cases of green hydrogen, and we can expect to see even more applications and innovations as the technology continues to improve and costs decrease.
Challenges of green hydrogen production
Green hydrogen produced from renewable energy sources has the potential to be a clean and sustainable energy source. However, there are several challenges that need to be addressed before it can be widely adopted. Firstly, it is expensive to produce hydrogen from low-carbon energy sources such as wind and solar power, and the expenses may ultimately prove too much for hydrogen production to be a viable option. Secondly, the development of hydrogen infrastructure, such as refueling stations is slow, which is a major deterrent for widespread adoption of hydrogen-powered vehicles. Finally, hydrogen is often supplied from natural gas and coal, which are not renewable sources of energy. These challenges need to be overcome in order to make green hydrogen a viable alternative to fossil fuels.
“Australian companies and investors are ready to apply their ingenuity and considerable experience to activating the supply of hydrogen. The challenge is to develop the early demand that will enable the suppliers to begin their journey down the cost curve. The best way to start this journey is for governments and industry to work together in the manner outlined in this Strategy.” - Dr Alan Finkel AO Australia’s Chief Scientist
The International Energy Agency, an autonomous intergovernmental organisation which provides policy recommendations and data on the global energy structure, has come up with four ways to expediate the adoption of hydrogen production.
- Increase production in already existing coastal industrial zones and plants
- Use existing pipelines to produce hydrogen
Use fuel cell vehicles in trade routes, fleets and freights
Develop international hydrogen trade shipping routes
The IEA has also given seven recommendations for moving forward with hydrogen production.
- Establish a role for hydrogen in long-term energy strategies.
- Stimulate commercial demand for clean hydrogen.
- Address investment risks of first movers.
- Support R&D to bring down costs (technology will be one of the most important factors for expediating the widespread adoption of hydrogen production).
- Eliminate unnecessary regulatory barriers and harmonise standards.
- Engage internationally and track progress.
- Focus on the four key opportunities mentioned earlier to further increase momentum over the next decade.