Tag Archives: hydrogen

hydrogen economy

The future Hydrogen Economy is scaffolded by universities

The world faces a huge challenge in sustainably delivering our energy needs. Hydrogen promises to become a major clean energy contributor, yet currently most of the world’s 70 million tonnes of hydrogen produced each year comes from hydrocarbon/coal processes such as coal gasification, with only around four per cent from ‘clean’ processes involving electrolysis (converting water into hydrogen and oxygen).

Australian university science provides the basis on which the hydrogen industry has evolved and continues to innovate, playing an essential role as a partner in establishing innovation and technological change. This research is coming from surprising places, including centres of biology, chemistry and geology.

Plant science key to unlimited clean fuels 

Using electrolysis to convert water into hydrogen — with a by-product of oxygen — is costly because it must use continuous grid power. At present, these energy-hungry and inefficient processes defeat the purpose of creating hydrogen as an energy source.  

At the Australian National University, chemistry professors Ron Pace and Rob Stranger have taken a leaf from nature, uncovering the process used by all photosynthetic organisms to use the sun’s energy to convert water into hydrogen and oxygen. This natural electrolysis is the most efficient method known and relies on a ‘chemical spark plug’ called the water oxidising complex.

For decades, debate has raged about how the atoms that comprise water are used in this photosynthesis process. Profs Pace and Stranger used Australia’s fastest supercomputer at the ANU’s National Computational Infrastructure facility to model the chemical structure of the manganese atoms involved in this process and to decode the reasons behind its efficiency.

Their discovery has opened up opportunities to develop ‘artificial leaf’ technology with the capacity for potential unlimited future hydrogen production.

Professor Pace now heads a $1.77 million project in partnership with Dr Gerry Swiegers and Dr Pawel Wagner at the University of Wollongong, which uses specially designed electrodes, made of Gor-Tex, to mimic natural surfaces. The materials will help the formation of hydrogen and oxygen gas bubbles to operate more efficiently and also allow them to use fluctuating power sources such as wind and solar energy. 

Hydrogen pilot plant delivers first shipment 

Potential demand for imported hydrogen in China, Japan, South Korea and Singapore could reach 3.8 million tonnes by 2030. The QUT Redlands Research Facility is already geared up to generate hydrogen gas from seawater using solar power generated by its concentrated solar array.

The project received funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency to develop next-generation technologies in electrolysis, energy storage and chemical sensing to produce hydrogen without any carbon dioxide emissions. 

The facility is led by Professor Ian Mackinnon, who possesses deep science expertise in geology and chemistry, and also heads QUT’s Institute for Future Environments. The first shipment of green hydrogen was exported from the facility, to Japan, in March 2019 as part of a collaboration between QUT and the University of Tokyo, which uses proprietary technology owned by JXTG, Japan’s largest petroleum conglomerate. It’s just one of the ways in which Australian science expertise, led by universities, is driving a new economy forward.

Fran Molloy

University science delivering key outcomes to hydrogen and energy futures

  • New material splits water into hydrogen cheaply: Professor Chuan Zhao and UNSW chemists invented a new nano-framework of non-precious metals, making it cheaper to create hydrogen fuel by splitting water atoms.

  • Molecular breakthrough helps solar cells tolerate humidity: Nanomaterials scientists at Griffith University, under Professor Huijun Zhao, invented a way to make cheap solar-cell technology more tolerant of moisture and humidity.

  • A spoonful of sugar generates enough hydrogen energy to power a mobile phone: Genetically engineered bacteria that turn sugar into hydrogen have been developed by a team of molecular chemists at Macquarie University who are looking to scale the technology.

  • Solar crystals are non-toxic: Under Dr Guohua Jia, molecular scientists at Curtin University have invented tiny crystals that don’t contain toxic metals but can be used as catalysts to convert solar energy into hydrogen.

  • Green chemistry breakthrough makes hydrogen generation cheaper: Electromaterials scientists at Monash University, led by Dr Alexandr Simonov, have found a solution to metal corrosion caused by water splitting to create hydrogen.

  • Gelion revolutionary battery technology: A University of Sydney chemistry team, led by Professor Thomas Maschmeyer, created low-cost, safe, scalable zinc bromide battery technology for remote and renewable energy storage.

  • Ocean mapping finds prime-tide for energy: University of Tasmania Associate Professor Irene Penesis is using hydrodynamics and mathematics to assess Bass Strait’s tidal energy resources to stimulate investment in this sector.

  • New catalyst helps turn CO2 into renewable fuel: CSIRO materials chemist Dr Danielle Kennedy, with University of Adelaide scientists, created porous crystals that help convert carbon dioxide from air into synthetic natural gas using solar energy.

This article appears in Australian University Science Issue 1.


hydrogen

Boosting renewable hydrogen research

On behalf of the Australian Government, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) announced on 6 September it has awarded $22.1 million in funding to 16 research projects to propel innovation in exporting renewable hydrogen to the world.
 
The funding has been offered to research teams from nine Australian universities and research organisations including the Australian National University, Macquarie University, Monash University, Queensland University of Technology, RMIT University, The University of Melbourne, University of New South Wales, The University of Western Australia and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).
 
In December 2017, ARENA announced the funding round into hydrogen R&D. It is the first time ARENA had sought to fund research into the hydrogen energy supply chain. 
 
The early stage research projects cover a diverse range of renewable solutions, with at least one project from each point in the supply chain – production, hydrogen carrier and end use. The projects include the development of a wide range of hydrogen-related technologies including concentrating solar thermal, electrolysis, biotechnology, carrier synthesis, thermochemical processes, fuel cell development and energy generation. 
 
Hydrogen – or carriers like ammonia – are potentially ways for Australia to export renewable energy. Electrical energy can readily be converted into hydrogen via electrolysis. Renewable or green hydrogen involves producing hydrogen from renewable sources for example via electrolysers powered by solar and wind. 
 
Hydrogen is poised to play a larger role, as the world moves to a low carbon economy. Hydrogen can potentially be used as a way for Australia to export renewable energy to other countries, particularly in Asia with demand expected to increase. 
 
Earlier this month, ARENA also released a report that identified opportunities for Australia to export hydrogen as global demand for hydrogen increases in the next decade. 
 
The report, prepared by ACIL Allen Consulting for ARENA, found there could be a significant increase in demand globally for hydrogen exports as other countries – such as Japan and the Republic of Korea – looked to transition to renewable energy. With the right conditions, hydrogen exports could be worth $1.7 billion annually and could generate 2,800 jobs in Australia by 2030. 
 
ARENA is also part of the Hydrogen Strategy Group, led by Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel AO, which prepared a briefing paper on hydrogen for the COAG Energy Council.
 
ARENA CEO Darren Miller said the $22.1 million funding boost would help to maximise Australia’s opportunities in developing a cost-effective hydrogen export supply chain.
 
“Exporting renewable energy, such as by the use of hydrogen, involves developing and integrating emerging technologies. This funding will help bolster the research efforts of Australian scientists to drive innovation for what could become the next big export industry.
 
“Hydrogen is poised to play a big role in the world’s low carbon economy. Already, Japan and South Korea have committed to becoming major import markets for renewable hydrogen but as yet there are no exporters,” Mr Miller said.
 
“With its abundance of sun and wind, and experience as one of the world’s largest LNG exporters, Australia is ideally placed to become a global superpower in exporting renewable energy, and this work will help position us as leaders in this field,” he said.
Media release from ARENA. For more information, head to https://bit.ly/2M0juka.