‘Carbon-free’ fuel discovery to make Australia world’s leading renewable energy supplier

Multi-million dollar research into separating hydrogen from Australia’s mixed gas streams could present an alternative to the liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry, an energy champion has said.

It is hoped a two-year project led by Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) will plug a gap in global energy technology, which could make Australia the world’s number one renewable fuel provider.

Brett Cooper, chairman of Renewable Hydrogen, believes CSIRO’s membrane technology can enable a new, and potentially carbon-free, export that could match the scale of the current LNG industry.

“With this technology, we can now deliver our renewable energy to Japan, Korea and across the Asia-Pacific region in liquid form, as renewable ammonia, and efficiently convert it back to pure hydrogen for cars, buses, power generation and industrial processes,” Cooper said.

This market didn’t exist 10 years ago – now Australia is positioned to be the number one renewable fuel provider in the world’s fastest growing region.”

CSIRO’s membrane reactor technology is said to link hydrogen production, distribution and delivery in the form of a modular unit that can be used at, or near, re-fuelling stations.

The project recently received $1.7 million from the Science and Industry Endowment Fund (SIEF), which will be matched by CSIRO.

Currently, the transportation and storage of hydrogen is complex and relatively expensive, making export commercially challenging.

The membrane will allow hydrogen to be transported in the form of ammonia, which is already being traded globally, and then reconverted back to hydrogen at the point of use.

The thin metal membrane allows hydrogen to pass, while blocking all other gases. In the final stages of development, the device is being further refined, ready for commercial deployment.

“This is a watershed moment for energy, and we look forward to applying CSIRO innovation to enable this exciting renewably-sourced fuel and energy storage medium a smoother path to market,” said CSIRO’s CEO Dr Larry Marshall.

“I’m delighted to see strong collaboration and the application of CSIRO know-how to what is a key part of the overall energy mix.”

Recent advances in solar and electrochemical technologies means renewable hydrogen production is expected to become competitive with fossil fuel-based production, providing an opportunity to decarbonise both the energy and transport sectors while creating new export opportunities.

While Australia is a relatively small hydrogen market, the fuel can be distributed to emerging markets in Japan, South Korea and Europe using existing infrastructure.

Both Toyota Australia and Hyundai Australia have affirmed their support of the CSIRO’s hydrogen membrane technology programme. 

“Research into making hydrogen more accessible in the future for fuel and energy storage is key to the success of this technology,” said Toyota Australia’s senior executive advisor Bernie O’Connor.