WA GOVERNMENT HYDROGEN COUNCIL MEETS FOR FIRST TIME

By: Fabian Cotter


WORLDWIDE TRENDS AND projections for increased hydrogen demand and fuel-cell use – particularly buses - has resulted in the Western Australian Government convening its first hydrogen council meeting, it was announced recently.

WA GOVERNMENT HYDROGEN COUNCIL MEETS FOR FIRST TIME
The Western Australian Government has convened its first hydrogen council meeting.

With the overall aim to scope regional renewable hydrogen opportunity, the McGowan Government's Renewable Hydrogen Council is well positioned to produce and export renewable hydrogen, driving new job opportunities for the regions, it states.

Focused on opportunities for Western Australia to capture a share of the global demand for clean energy, the government says it is, "looking at how to capitalise on WA's vast land and renewable energy resources, including wind and solar, to deliver renewable hydrogen to export markets." 

Regional Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan said: "Renewable hydrogen has the potential to be a major new industry for Western Australia that can build on many of our strengths to provide trading partners with clean energy."

"As the world moves to a lower carbon future, Western Australia has enormous potential to provide the clean energy the world will need, but the imperative is to move quickly and strategically.

"We are building on the momentum generated out of our Renewable Hydrogen Conference, and I look forward to working with the council to explore the strategic approaches that would help the development and growth of a renewable hydrogen industry in regional Western Australia," she said.

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THE COUNCIL – A BREAKDOWN

The council - a collective of government (State and national), industry and other representatives with significant renewable hydrogen industry expertise - will be led by Minister MacTiernan.

Members have been drawn from the Office of the Minister for Energy; Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development; Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation; Australian Gas Infrastructure Group; ATCO Gas; Woodside; ENGIE; Hydrogen Mobility Australia; CSIRO; ARENA; Yara; and Jackson McDonald, it states.

HOW IT’S USED

As a fuel, hydrogen can be used in similar ways to natural gas, it’s explained. In simple terms, it can be burned, used to create electricity, or stored for future energy generation or export. When made using renewable energy such as solar or wind, hydrogen is a carbon-free fuel as, when burned, the only by-products are water and heat.

The council will deliver its recommendations in early 2019.

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REAL DEMAND OR FAKE NEWS?

According to the late 2017-produced Global Trends and Outlook for Hydrogen, prepared by Mary-Rose de Valladares, general manager IEA Hydrogen Technology Collaboration Program (TCP), it unequivocally states two crucial aspects of hydrogen use that governments and financial markets worldwide would be foolish to fully appreciate now, in the context of major shares investment over the next 50 – 100 years: that "hydrogen’s relationship to renewables cannot be overemphasized", and that "…technically ready for the marketplace, fuel cell buses have undergone extensive demonstration around the world over a prolonged period."

As the ubiquitously predicted use of global public transport – particularly mass use of buses, electric and or autonomous, or otherwise – usurps that of individual cars in future, it gives insight into how common-sense, if nothing else, will drive hydrogen’s adaptation and application.

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MOSTLY PROS

As de Valladares highlights, "Hydrogen is the most abundant and lightest of the elements. It is odourless and nontoxic. It has the highest energy content of common fuels by weight - nearly three times that of gasoline."

"Hydrogen is not found free in nature and must be ‘extracted’ from diverse sources: fossil energy, renewable energy, nuclear energy and the electrolysis of water. A separate energy source (electricity, heat or light) is required to ‘produce’ (extract or reform) the hydrogen."

"Today, most hydrogen is made from fossil energy using steam methane reforming (SMR) of natural gas, followed by partial oxidation (POX) and auto-thermal reforming (ATR), which combines SMR and POX processes."

However, she continued, "Like electricity, hydrogen is an ‘energy carrier’. It can be used in a full range of applications in all sectors of the economy: transportation, power, industry, and buildings."

Most critically for transport use, she added: "Hydrogen can be converted to electricity by a fuel cell, an electrochemical device. Unlike batteries, fuel cells operate continuously in the presence of hydrogen and oxygen (in ambient air). Fuel cells are ‘scalable’ and may be used in very small to very large sizes. The only byproducts of fuel cells are heat and water."

"Hydrogen’s relationship to renewables cannot be overemphasized. The 2015 IEA Technology Roadmap for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells recognises that hydrogen with a low-carbon footprint has the potential to facilitate significant reductions in energy-related CO2 emissions. Thus, use of renewable feedstocks for hydrogen production is very attractive from the environmental perspective."

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HELPING GRIDS – A GAME-CHANGER?

Given the world is witnessing significant growth in the installed capacity of renewables (primarily wind and solar), the electricity grid must sometimes restrict uptake of renewable electricity when the grid is full (saturated) in order to balance electricity supply and demand, it explains. Consequently, renewable electricity production is curtailed, it adds.

"However, use of hydrogen for storage of renewable electricity (converted via water electrolysis) is a game-changer. Hydrogen and 6 IEA Hydrogen electricity are, in fact, complementary energy carriers: hydrogen can be converted to electricity, and electricity can be converted to hydrogen."

Also interestingly it adds that hydrogen reserves can help to buffer the electricity system, enhancing system security.

"Traditionally, the electricity system maintains a reserve of approximately 15-20 per cent as a standard safety buffer to ensure smooth functioning. In the future, given increased demand for electricity, the fossil fuel supply alone may not provide [a] sufficient buffer, so hydrogen can be used to fill the gap."

It ultimately reaches the verdict that: "Since fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) are emission-free at the tailpipe, use of hydrogen in the transport sector positively impacts urban air quality, whether or not the hydrogen feedstock is produced from a renewable source."

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NOT FOR ALL?

Yet while hydrogen can be used for electrification to replace diesel in many applications, for heavy duty transport – non-electrified trains and maritime transport, for example – there are battery challenges, it says.

For buses, though, it seems hydrogen use is right in its equivalent of the Earth-hunt space definition ‘Goldilocks zone’.

"In Europe, the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU)’s CHIC (Clean Hydrogen in European Cities) program ended in December 2016, after six years of demonstrating 56 fuel cell buses at a total cost of €81 million (including €25.88 million in FCH JU co-funding)," the report states.

"In 2013, the California Fuel Cell Partnership published A Road Map for Fuel Cell Electric Buses in California. UC Transit in Oakland, CA, USA has the largest fleet in North America, with 12 fuel cell buses. Buses fleets are ready for scale up," it says.

At the time, it listed the following as [online] ‘trending now’:

• China – Foshan and Yunfu placed a $17 million order for 300 fuel cell buses through Ballard subsidiary Guangdong Synergy Hydrogen Power;

• South Korea – is replacing "~26,000 CNG buses" with FC buses in the 2030 timeframe;

• Europe – [the] 3Emotion-project will develop a transferability plan to bridge the gap between fuel cell … demonstration and larger scale development and procurement; EU funding JIVE to deploy 139 FC buses;

• Funding announced in UK to bring 42 fuel cell buses on the road in 2017; and

• Non-individual Transport: From commercial and logistics vehicles to heavy duty trucks.

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