Growing hydrogen’s potential to be more than just hot air

Fitting together the pieces of the hydrogen puzzle, as Alison Reeve, taskforce leader of Australia’s National Hydrogen Strategy, puts it, will take more than commitments from governments, it requires customers.

At a session conducted as part of the Australian Clean Energy Summit, panel members discussed the future of hydrogen in Australia, both as an export earner and a domestic energy source. For manufacturers in particular, hydrogen offers that dense, energy rich power source that solar and wind are unable to deliver.

The types of hydrogen available today include so called “brown” hydrogen, created from fossil fuels, “blue” hydrogen where carbon emissions are captured and stored, and “green” hydrogen made through electrolysis powered by renewable energy.

Although the technology is there, at any of these stages a hydrogen project requires financial help, as Martin Hablutzel, head of strategy at Siemens, highlighted. Notwithstanding trial projects in Gippsland for export and in Melbourne for being turned into car batteries, there is still a commercial gap to leap over for the sector.

Currently, however, that gap is narrowing. With the cost of renewables reducing and the technology for transportation advancing, hydrogen is close to reaching its potential, and it is vital that Australian domestic manufacturers play a part, as Alex Hewitt, executive director of CWP renewables pointed out.

Whether that is in the marketing of hydrogen’s potential to export markets through its domestic use and consumption, or the development of fuel cells that utilise hydrogen to run cars, buses and trucks, hydrogen projects will be looking for local partners to innovate and make their projects cheaper, noted Reeve.

Finally, as John O’Brien, partner in Energy Transition at Deloitte stressed, hydrogen has the potential to shift difficult to decarbonise markets such as energy intensive manufacturing to clean solutions, something unachievable with electricity produced from renewable sources. This can also extend the lift of costly infrastructure such as iron ore smelters as they reach emission limits, but not their end-of-life.

For hydrogen’s potential as a clean energy source to be fully realised, manufacturers have a important role to play.