So, what is green hydrogen, is it safe, and what role can Wagga play in producing the “fuel of the future”?
What is green hydrogen and how is it made?
Green hydrogen promises a lot: an almost totally limitless, zero emission source of energy.
Instead of the fossil fuels traditionally burned when producing hydrogen, the green hydrogen process involves using renewable energy to power eloctrolysers which split water into hydrogen and oxygen. Once the hydrogen has been separated, it can be transported elsewhere by trucks, pipelines and ships, or used locally for transport, manufacturing or energy production.
Although the technology to produce and distribute the fuel already exists, cost is the main barrier preventing green hydrogen from becoming mainstream.
However, hydrogen is quickly catching up to more traditional fuels like diesel as the cost of electrolysers and renewable energy continues to fall, according to Dr Steven Percy from the Victorian Energy Hub at Swinburne University.
“These two things happening together mean that we’re going to be able to produce hydrogen cheaper than ever before,” he said.
“What we’re finding is that (in) industries that use diesel, it will probably make sense to start transitioning to hydrogen.”
Dr Percy, who has researched the future costs of fuel as renewable technologies become cheaper, said hydrogen could start competing with diesel as a transport fuel “in the next four years or so.”
Is it safe?
Dr Percy doesn’t think safety is a big issue when it comes to producing and transporting hydrogen. Atomic hydrogen is highly reactive, but so are the particles inside a battery or a tank full of natural gas, petrol or diesel.
“They’ve been moving hydrogen around for a long time,” he said.
He said the technology to support the mainstream use of hydrogen as a transport fuel is pretty well-established.
“For example, refuelling a vehicle there’s a lot of sensors on the refueller, so as soon as there’s just the slightest leak from the refuelling nozzle, it cuts out,” he said.
“What’s really important now is to do trials to work out some of these issues, and that’s what’s happening over Australia.”
SHIP OF THE FUTURE: Australia’s first commercial shipment of super-cooled liquid hydrogen on its way to Japan aboard as part of the CSIRO’s hydrogen energy supply chain (HESC) project. Picture: AAP
Although our solar resources don’t quite match those of Queensland, Dr Percy said proximity to major freight corridors could work in Wagga’s favour as the decarbonisation of freight transport gathers pace over the next decade.
“Wagga is potentially well-situated to provide hydrogen to those freight corridors,” he said.
“Especially the amount of trucks that go between Sydney and Melbourne … (it could) effectively help to decarbonise those.”
The Riverina’s growing solar industry would provide the reliable renewable energy needed to support a green hydrogen industry, and the process uses “surprisingly little” water; Dr Percy estimates achieving a $50 billion green hydrogen industry would only use about 4 per cent of the 224,000 megalitres currently used to mine coal in Queensland and NSW.
And the cost of production is only going to get cheaper as the price of solar falls.
“Solar becomes a lot cheaper than wind moving forward, which actually creates a dynamic where the place that’s the cheapest to produce hydrogen today actually changes over the next 10-15 years,” he said.
When can I expect to be filling my car with hydrogen?
While hydrogen may become cheaper than diesel in the next four years, the infrastructure needed to support a hydrogen economy is likely to lag behind.
Dr Percy said government needs to look at whether it can support the transition with key infrastructure such as refuellers.
“It is very important that the government understands (that) when industry is going to want to transition, because it becomes cheaper, there is going to be a need for that supporting infrastructure,” he said.
Even if Wagga establishes a green hydrogen industry as solar becomes cheaper beyond 2030, we are unlikely to see it at the local service station anytime soon.
“I think a general person will not be using hydrogen … and probably not in the next couple of years,” Dr Percy said.
“Maybe beyond, it would be freight businesses that would be thinking about using it.”