Adelaide is one step closer to supplying at least part of its mains gas network with renewable hydrogen after the installation of an electrolyser proposed by gas network distributer Australian Gas Networks gained the green light from the South Australian Government.
Development approval has been granted for the $11.4 million Hydrogen Park SA facility, to be built in the Tonsley Innovation District in the south of Adelaide as part of a project to demonstrate the potential for renewable gas to be supplied to homes and businesses. Australian Gas Networks expects to produce the first renewable hydrogen at the site by mid-2020.
The facility will include a 1.25MW electrolyser, which will produce hydrogen gas using electricity, with Australian Gas Networks matching the electricity use with the purchase and voluntary surrender of renewable energy certificates.
Hydrogen will be produced using a proton exchange membrane electrolyser, powered with renewable electricity, splitting water into its hydrogen and oxygen gas components.
The hydrogen produced at the facility will be blended into the main gas network, replacing around 5 per cent of the natural gas supply with renewable hydrogen.
“Renewable hydrogen will comprise no more than 5% of the total blended renewable gas volume to be supplied to parts of Mitchell Park. The characteristics of the blended 5% renewable gas are consistent with the Australian Standard for natural gas supply,” Australian Gas Networks said in a statement.
By limiting the blending of the renewable hydrogen to 5 per cent of the mains gas supply, Australian Gas Networks is confident that customers will not notice any difference in their supply, and will require no modifications to gas appliances.
Skeptics also wonder if it will produce enough change in the emissions profile of the gas network. The gas industry, however, sees the “image” of renewable hydrogen, even it amounts to a fraction of total supply, as integral to the future business model of gas networks.
The facility is expected to produce enough hydrogen gas to supply blended gas to up to 710 customers in the suburb of Mitchell Park. The Tonsley Innovation District, where the electrolyser will be located, has been established at the location of a former Mitsubishi factory in Adelaide, repurposing the site to attract firms developing new innovations and technologies in clean tech, health and software development.
Transitioning the mains gas network to a higher hydrogen mix, or a network supplying pure hydrogen, would require the replacement of most gas appliances used within households.
With growing pressures on governments and businesses to lead the decarbonisation of the economy, and with goals to achieve zero net emissions by mid-century, gas network owners have recognised that gas use will become a growing target of emissions reduction efforts.
Renewable hydrogen potentially provides a solution to this challenge, with experts suggesting Australia would have a natural competitive advantage in a hydrogen export sector, due to its proximity to Asia and abundant access to renewable energy sources.
“The decarbonisation challenge is huge and many solutions are needed for Australia to meet its emission reduction targets, and that includes gas stepping up to play its part,” Australian Gas Network’s CEO Ben Wilson said.
“Developing the hydrogen economy will also play a key role and the momentum around hydrogen is building with burgeoning research and development underway.”
“Commercial hydrogen production is achievable and can decarbonise Australia’s energy mix while at the same time accessing export markets.”
As part of the next phase of its strategy towards zero net emissions, the ACT Government recently announced that it would focus on the phasing out of gas use in the territory.
Planning for the end of gas use is set to raise tensions with Evoenergy, which is a 50-50 joint venture between the ACT Government and network operator Jemena, which sees such an approach as threatening the business model of gas network owners.
The South Australian project has received financial support through a $4.9 million grant from the South Australian Government’s Renewable Technology Fund. The company expects to commence the process of installing the electrolyser before the end of the year, with the production and injection of gas to begin next year.
“The release of our Hydrogen Action Plan this week shows we’re committed to growing hydrogen exports from South Australia, creating jobs and pushing renewable hydrogen into our energy mix,” the South Australian energy minister Dan van Holst Pellekaan said.
“This is a significant step forward towards an affordable and reliable renewable energy future for South Australia.”
The granting of development approval at the Hydrogen Park SA follows the release of the South Australian government’s vision for a 100% hydrogen economy, with the state seeking to position itself as a national leader in the production, use and export of renewable hydrogen gas.
There are similar trials of the injection of hydrogen gas into the mains gas network in several other Australian states, including a trial being lead by Jemena in New South Wales at will see up to 10 per cent hydrogen being used in the gas network, and an ARENA funded demonstration precinct being developed by WA gas network operator ATCO in the south of Perth.