It’s all about hydrogen.
It’s the most abundant atom in the universe.
Take water. Add sunlight.
Run the solar panel’s electrical current through a pool in an electrolysis reactor, and you get pure oxygen – and pure hydrogen. In fact, you get two hydrogen atoms for every oxygen (thus H2O).
All the process needs is investment. And space.
Little wonder projects are rapidly sprouting across regional Australia in the race to reduce the impact of climate change.
Launceston and Gladstone have the space. Now both are actively studying how fast-tracking hydrogen production can help their local economies.
Launceston Airport has announced a partnership with Countrywide Hydrogen to produce the gas. Situated 15 kilometres south of Launceston, Tasmania, it is a gateway for the region’s commercial aircraft and air freight. It has initiated a feasibility study into using disused airport land for 5 megawatts of solar arrays, an electrolysis plant and a distribution centre.
“We are incredibly excited by the number of complementary hub opportunities this collaboration could afford Northern Tasmania, including on-site hydrogen refuelling for bus and truck operators looking to decarbonise their vehicle fleet, while offering fuel cell vehicle servicing, maintenance and upskilling diesel mechanics and technicians,” Countrywide managing director Geoff Drucker says.
“It could also support our vision to develop a logistics hub at Western Junction encompassing road, rail and air,” adds Launceston Airport CEO Shane O’Hare.
In the port city of Gladstone, Cement Australia and Mitsubishi Gas Chemical Company are studying how to produce methanol from green hydrogen and waste CO2 from the cement-making process.
And Gladstone district council has cottoned on to the idea. Last week, it released a 10-year energy transition roadmap. Compiled with the assistance of regional economic development group The Next Economy, it details the investment and infrastructure the community needs to embrace hydrogen.
“The Gladstone region is the ideal location for growing a diverse green hydrogen sector, with abundant renewable energy sources, existing infrastructure, including port facilities and a highly skilled workforce,” Cement Australia said in a statement.
Central to both projects is the local production of “green” hydrogen.
Read more: CSIRO’s renewable hydrogen initiative
Dedicated solar power plants disconnect the cost of producing hydrogen from the fluctuations of the national power grid. This helps ensure the resulting fuel is as competitively priced as possible.
And water electrolysis systems do not produce waste carbon dioxide, unlike “blue” hydrogen which condenses hydrogen out of natural gas.
Hydrogen industry challenges
But there are challenges.
Hydrogen-skilled workers are scarce. And the cost of electrolysis systems is high.
Mostly, though, the corrosive nature of pure hydrogen puts especially harsh demands on infrastructure. This poses hurdles for storage, transportation and distribution.
Put simply, producing the gas where you plan to use it is more efficient.
And that presents an opportunity for regional centres with the space and motivation to adapt to the new economy. Green hydrogen plants promise to produce long-term local employment involving every stage of the process – from installing and maintaining the solar arrays to piping the hydrogen to its customer.
And manufacturers will go where they can find readily available hydrogen.
Australia’s state governments have gradually come to understand the nature and promise of this emerging economy over the past five years.
Are you interested in the energy industry and the technology and scientific developments that power it? Then our new email newsletter Energise, launching soon, is for you. Click here to become an inaugural subscriber.
Jamie Seidel is a freelance journalist based in Adelaide.
The Greenlight Project is a year-long look at how regional Australia is preparing for and adapting to climate change.
Read science facts, not fiction...
There’s never been a more important time to explain the facts, cherish evidence-based knowledge and to showcase the latest scientific, technological and engineering breakthroughs. Cosmos is published by The Royal Institution of Australia, a charity dedicated to connecting people with the world of science. Financial contributions, however big or small, help us provide access to trusted science information at a time when the world needs it most. Please support us by making a donation or purchasing a subscription today.