ARENA seeks ideas for renewable-based hydrogen exports

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The Australian Renewable Energy Agency says it is seeking ideas to help it explore Australia’s potential to export renewable energy in forms such as hydrogen – a goal that has attracted the interest of japanese trading giants and leading players such as economist Ross Garrnaut and ex CEFC boss Oliver Yates.

ARENA said on Wednesday it had opened a request for information that will close in one month, and seeks input from industry and researchers on where it should direct funding to boost the chances of building a renewable exports industry.

South Australia is already toying with the idea of renewable energy exports and using the hydrogen economy to mop up excess output from its wind and solar farms, both planned and present.

The ACT has also extracted $180 million in investments in the hydrogen economy as part of its reverse auction scheme that will take it to the equivalent of 100 per cent renewable energy for its electricity needs by 2020.

ARENA released an investment plant in May that identified the export of renewables as one of its four priorities for future funding.

“Australia has vast renewable energy resources, good export capabilities and strong relationships with key international energy markets,” CEO Ivor Frischknecht says.

“All of these factors put Australia in an excellent position to meet the international demand for renewable energy.

“There is a global interest in clean renewable energy and a number of markets have identified hydrogen and its associated materials as key supply.

Australia is expected to have a competitive advantage in the supply of renewable commodities – thanks to our abundant solar and wind resources as well as Australia’s proximity and key trading relationships with major consumer countries, such as Japan.”

ARENA says it has recently provided support to Wollongong-based company AquaHydrex to develop a new electrolyser to convert water to hydrogen.

The technology, originally developed from research performed at the University of Wollongong and Monash University, aims to lower the production costs of hydrogen at a commercial scale.

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The responses sought in the request for information centre around the following key areas:

●  The production of renewable hydrogen.

●  The conversion of gaseous hydrogen to a substance or form suitable for export, and

●  The (re)conversion of an exportable substance to hydrogen, or an alternative form, and its use as an energy source.


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  • George Darroch

    This could be a good way for wind and solar plants to deal with curtailment, if the economics stack up.

  • Chris Fraser

    On another level, could ARENA also develop more domestic uses ? While I’m no expert, it might be very good for them to sponsor an effective way to power EVs using a liquid electrolyte ?

  • Ian

    Why so fixated on burning stuff? You’d think a place like South Australia, which has been at the forefront of building a huge battery would make a not so huge leap in their thinking about other forms of batteries. The very same dudes that supplied their big battery are showing the way regarding mobile uses of battery storage. Even in big trucks and buses. What’s with this hydrogen thing? It’s like betting all your gold on alchemy.

    • Geoff James

      It’s the parallel opportunity to wean ourselves off liquid fossil fuels that makes this a really interesting pathway. Australia is critically dependent on oil imports. Considered on its own, hydrogen and ammonia would definitely have to compete with a pure electricity pathway, which is more efficient but can’t yet reach as far as those “key international energy markets” that we presently trade with.

      • Ian

        The abundant renewable energy that we would seek to export will have to be converted into some other product. Hydrogen or ammonia are just some of many options. The product need not be electricity at the other end. It could be metals like aluminium, fertilisers chemicals or products requiring high levels of automation and electricity use like solar panels or lithium batteries.

    • Alastair Leith

      Energy density.

      • Ian

        Assuming a 100% renewables grid in WA, are you saying that there may be up to a three week period of windless, cloudy days for the which storage or fuels would be needed?

        If hydrogen was to be the storage medium how much would be needed to store WA’s electricity requirements for three weeks? That is about 1TWH of electricity. Can hydrogen storage do this?

        Some stats I google-gleaned:

        50KWH electricity to make 1KG of Hydrogen, 39KWH in 1KG of hydrogen , density of liquid hydrogen 77KG/m3, fuel cell conversion 60% efficient, temp liquid hydrogen -253’c, Olympic pool volume 2500m3, very large oil tanker (VLCC ) 320 000m3

        1TWH electricity requires 1Kg/.6/39X1000 000 000 kg of hydrogen 43 000 tonnes . In the liquid form: 560 000m3 = 224 cryogenic Olympic pool volumes or the volume of 2 VLCC.

        These are big numbers and storing enough liquid hydrogen for three weeks electricity generation would be a huge undertaking. I don’t know if anyone has ever attempted storing such a vast quantity of hydrogen. Imagine if it all exploded at once – a hydrogen bomb to rival that of Kim JongUn ‘s to be sure!

        I think that we would be hard pressed to completely get rid of liquid or solid fuels in this circumstance. We might have to go back to the drawing board as far as the initial three week storage requirement is concerned.

        • Alastair Leith

          Here’s the generation subtotals by type for one of the most recent SEN 100% RE models (including pumped hydro energy storage, which is storage and delayed generation, rather than pure generation but we count it in the merit dispatch because it’s relied on in the mix to meet demand).

          It’s calculated as biomass, to be burnt in thermal generators, but could be put through a scaled up pyrolysis process to make liquid/gaseous biofuel and burnt in jet derivative gas turbines. Actually research out of local Curtin Uni has a spin of business and they are using the biochar to filter the impurities out of the gas, impurities are a maintenance issue for turbine burners as they can fuse with the blades under the high heats present and leads to damage.

        • Alastair Leith

          I’d be looking to convert H2 from electrolysis to a more stable liquid or gaseous fuel, still massive energy density compared to lithium ion batteries or PHES. Methanol or perhaps ammonia even?

          Also I’m told there’s weeks of storage of fossil gas in the supply pipes alone in WA.

          • Dennis Abbott..

            A 2009 paper by my brother, Derek, suggests a pathway regarding a solar/hydrogen economy. This paper makes some interesting points which may be useful.
            Google, Abbott / Keeping the Energy Debate Clean:How Do We Supply the World’s Energy Needs?

      • stucrmnx120fshwf

        Density is the wrong term, but I think I know what you mean, the energy to weight ratio, take liquid hydrogen, an excellent aviation fuel, although low density, compared to avgas kerosene C12H26, atomic weight 186, per molecule. LH2 atomic weight 2, per molecule, lower density, so you have to increase the diameter, of the fuslage of the aircraft, but much better thrust to weight as a fuel. A light fuel, for new light composite aircraft, it’s like taking the fuel, hydrocarbon and separating the hydrogen and carbon, use the carbon for the wings and fuselage. Use the hydrogen for fuel, throw away the metal wings and fuselage weight penalty, less dense, but put that in the streamlined fuselage. Now with the reduced overall weight of the fuel and structures, reduce the wings surface area, per passenger tonne, reducing the overall drag, the virtuous circle. As in weight down, drag down, therefore weight further down, drag further down, weight further down, drag further down, weight further down, drag further down, etc.

        Prototype liquid hydrogen shipments begin, in 2018, full scale liquid hydrogen shipping in 2020, so we’ve seen the Pilbura desert 1 GW, to cable for Jakarta plan. Solar steelmaking in Whyala, electric self driving ore trucks, so Tony Abbot is wrong, you can make steel out of renewables, 25% of Australia’s can make a trillion tonnes of liquid hydrogen per year. That’s right, a million, million tonnes, of liquid hydrogen per year, for just a quarter of Australia’s desert. 1,250 times Australia’s current energy usage, hydro storage, can give us 35 times our current usage, but in economy of scale liquid hydrogen, can give us a massive export industry. Energy to weight, ships would ride high in the water, possibly vast, long aluminium catamarans, of 50 million tonnes each. Fed from offshore fueling and offloading facilities.

    • DugS

      You are quite right but don’t worry, it’s never going to happen, at least as described in the pretty infographic. Consider the various stages they map out for us, Water (quite a precious commodity in it’s own right) is purified i.e. significant energy input; Excess renewable energy is then used for electrolysis to harvest the hydrogen, lets say energy neutral for this stage, There is no point going through the inefficient process of electrolysis and then using the hydrogen for domestic fuel, that is plain stupid, so all the, by now valuable, hydrogen is destined for export which requires further processing and therefore energy input; The hydrogen-by-another-name is then shipped OS, using large amounts of energy in the process where it is re-processed back to friendly hydrogen (and a few other noxious elements we’ll just ignore for now), using further energy inputs and finally burnt. The combustion of the hydrogen results in water vapour being produced so it can be glorified as being clean, but what we have effectively done is export our precious water, Doh! As you can see the energy equation is quite unbalanced and so it is nonsensical to imagine it being economically viable let alone a new export industry. Then consider the potential customers mentioned as being Japan and Korea (presumably South). What is to stop these industrious nations from building a few wind farms and generating their own excess hydrogen? Do you see, it’s a bit like using leaves as a currency in a forrest. Double Doh!

  • RobertO

    If at the end of the day when batteries are all full, and useage is all covered then better to convert excess renewable electricity to Hydrogen rather that curtail energy. At start hydrogen can be added to Natural Gas lines and we have lots of those 10% by volumn, then storage for Fuel cells useage, batteries get to heavy, and take too long to charge for heavy vehicles. It more a case of right combination to right situation, big city may have only battery cars, remote areas may use battery plus fuel cell, small size so that it can rechage battery to get them home.
    This company is planning Solar to Hydrogen to Fuel Cell for heavy trucks.

  • Greg Hudson

    All ARENA needs to do is look towards the Orkney Islands in Scotland. They are already converting excess wind and wave power into Hydrogen, and are shipping it South to the Scottish mainland. It ain’t rocket science people…

  • Pixilico

    All that talk about renewable hydrogen still sounds like some sort of Aunt Sally rhetorical tactic to me: promote pie-in-the-sky renewably obtained hydrogen while actually laying the groundwork to increase the dependence on the one obtained mostly through the steam reformation of natural gas. I guess the present moment is rather inappropriate for that kind of experiment by the FFs incumbents trying to desperatly jump onto the renewables revolution bandwagon. Bash me at will if you think I deserve it. I’m ready for it.