An Australian-first project to test whether renewable hydrogen derived from excess solar and wind energy can be used in existing gas networks and appliances to replace natural gas is underway in the Australian Capital Territory.
The trial project, a partnership between the Canberra Institute of Technology and ACT network operator Evoenergy, will test up to 100 per cent hydrogen in a number of practical situations where natural gas is currently used.
Officially launched on Tuesday by ACT environment and energy minister Shane Rattenbury, the test facility will be rolled out in three phases over the coming 12 months.
The first phase will run tests on existing Australian network components, construction and maintenance practices on 100 per cent hydrogen.
Phases two and three will test hydrogen as a broader grid-scale energy storage source, and test hydrogen and mixed gases in existing appliances like gas cooktops and hot water systems.
“This first of its kind facility will allow us to gain a clear understanding of the impact of introducing hydrogen to existing infrastructure,” said Evoenergy gas networks branch manager Will Yeap, at the launch.
Rattenbury said the trial would help to determine what modifications or replacements might be necessary to allow the introduction of hydrogen into the natural gas distribution system.
“This trial here in Canberra has a very practical application, looking at how we can use (green hydrogen gas) through our pipelines here in the ACT, what impact it has on the pipelines, how it burns out the other side.
“We’re testing here facilities such as a cooktop, and looking at how hydrogen will go through the burners, how much hydrogen you can blend into the system and, ultimately, can you completely replace natural gas with hydrogen.”
At the same time as these tests are being conducted, CIT will also use the facility to train plumbing students in new technologies, to make them “skill-ready for the future,” he said.
“The ACT government will be looking at the results of the test facility closely as it looks to ways to achieve its ambitious target to reach zero net emissions by 2045.
“We’ve got 100 per cent of our electricity due to come from renewables by 2020. That will reduce our emissions by 40 per cent. We now need start looking at the next phase, of how we are going to start to tackle the remaining emissions,” Rattenbury said at the launch.
“Hydrogen has a real potential in that space. Whether it’s in replacing natural gas, that’s currently used a lot for heating and cooking purposes, or whether it’s used in the transport sector; we don’t know how it’s going to play out, but this sort of experimentation and testing is going to help answer a lot of those questions.”
And the ACT government won’t be the only party watching the trial’s progress.
Up until now, hydrogen has been safely added to natural gas mains at concentrations of up to only 10 per cent without affecting pipelines, appliances or regulations.
A separate trial in New South Wales, led by gas network operator Jemena and backed by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, is also testing hydrogen in the local LNG network, using fuel from a demonstration-scale 500kW electrolyser, it is planning to build in western Sydney.
Green hydrogen production and usage in Australia has been a major focus of ARENA of late, including $22.1 million in grant funding to 16 different and national research and development projects.
ARENA CEO Darren Miller says hydrogen has huge potential to store renewable energy and supplement natural gas use, and as a potentially valuable export commodity.
And according to a report from the CSIRO, clean hydrogen could be cost-competitive with existing industrial fuels like natural gas, and with emerging energy storage technologies like batteries, by 2025.
ARENA is also part of the Hydrogen Strategy Group, chaired by Australia’s chief scientist, Alan Finkel – another great fan of renewable hydrogen fuel – that is working with the COAG Energy Council.
As well as working out how green hydrogen can be used to replace natural gas on our grid, multiple major projects are underway to harness the massive potential of using the renewable fuel as a future export commodity.
As Bridie Schmidt reported here last month, the inaugural meeting of the global Renewable Hydrogen Council featured forecasts predicting demand for hydrogen as a fuel could increase to over a massive 500 million tonnes worldwide by 2050.
In Australia, the Asia Renewable Energy Hub has ambitious plans to build a mega project in Western Australia’s north-west to underpin a local manufacturing base and to export renewable energy to south-east Asia via a sub-sea cable and to export green hydrogen.
And across the ditch, New Zealand’s Ports of Auckland has announced a pilot project to build a hydrogen production and fuelling facility for use by vehicles at the port, including tugs and container straddle-carriers.
Sophie is editor of OneStepOffTheGrid.com.au and deputy editor of its sister site, RenewEconomy.com.au. Sophie has been writing about clean energy for more than a decade.