Eight thousand jobs, most of them in regional areas, are predicted to come with the looming boom in hydrogen and this month’s historic agreement between Australia and Japan on the fuel’s future underscores the speed with which this technology is coming.
Minister for Resources Matt Canavan signed the joint statement of cooperation with Japan’s minister of economy, trade and industry early in the new year “commiting to the deployment of hydrogen as a clean, secure, affordable and sustainable source of energy”.
The lightest and most abundant gas in the universe, this potent energy source has historically come from coal gas but will increasingly be a byproduct of solar and wind farm power. The CSIRO predicts renewable power will outcompete fossil fuels by 2025.
By 2050 experts believe the hydrogen economy will contribute $11 billion a year to gross domestic product.
At last year’s National Renewables in Agriculture Conference at Wagga Wagga, Dr Neil Thompson, Adjunct Associate Professor at Queensland University of Technology said Australia’s role in this bright future was enormous and he emphasized the process need not use high grade water.
“We can use bore water from the Great Artesian Basin and we are working with local councils using the recycled water from their sewage plants,” he said.
“The beautiful thing about hydrogen is it cuts across multiple sectors. With it we can make renewable power, we can make coolant through absorption, we can use it for transport fuel and we can turn it into ammonia.”
A key pathway to export is turning hydrogen gas into ammonia, using hundred year old technology, in which more lightweight atoms can be packed together for transport. The CSIRO, with funding from the likes of Twiggy Forrest, are creating vanadium membranes that return ammonia back to hydrogen.
“We can take Hydrogen to a farm and run it through a fuel cell and create electricity and hot water,” he said. “And guess what, the by-product is potable water.”
Last year’s Nuffield scholar Andre Henry, who this month published his final, complex report, came to the hydrogen sphere by way of wasted tomato vines.
As a glass house tomato producer at Kerang, Vic, Mr Henry realised the tonnes of vines produced as a by product were not very useful as compost because their fibrous strands were difficult to break down.
After travelling the world he can now see as future for cooking the woody vines in an oxygen-free retort, making syngas, and splitting off hydrogen with injected steam.
Examples of this process in the UK were discouraging to Mr Henry, who found subsidised woodchip meant a project that returned a $180,000 profit over there, would cost $140,000 in Australia.
Mr Henry realised to make his idea a success it would first have to work in Australia.
“Australian farmers are more efficient, more environmentally friendly, They use less water,” he said.