A Potential ‘Hydrogen Future’​ for the Illawarra. Article written by Dan Henricson.

Written by Dan Henricson.
Crisis, Risk & Operations Management Professional. Board Member @ i3network

“Along with the large scale development of renewable energy sources in Australia and across the globe, we are now starting to see the conversation turn to hydrogen as the next wave of technology. Those with an interest in this space will know hydrogen has been around for a long time and has gone through a number of iterations, however, we are now starting to see the first wave of large scale commercialisation of hydrogen networks. In Australia, we are still trying to figure out what this could look like, as the technology is still fairly ‘new’ to much of the population. As someone who has been following the development of hydrogen technology for some time and who has a passion for the Illawarra region, I thought I’d pull out the crystal ball to give you an idea of what we might see in the ‘hydrogen future’ in the region over the coming years.

A quick bit of background first, to give you an idea of what hydrogen is and does. Hydrogen has been used as an experimental ‘fuel’ since the late 1800’s, however, it took until the 1990’s for it to start to appear commercially viable. Since then, the materials and fuel cell technologies have developed considerably, to the point where fuel cells can now be brought off the shelf for under $2000 (on ebay!) . This has enabled hydrogen powered fuel cells to be developed for vehicles and power generation sources of all types, from cars and heavy vehicles to small aircraft. The power industry has been looking at hydrogen since the 1980’s (at least) with large gas turbine manufacturers working to use blended hydrogen and natural gas for gas turbines. This too is now a reality, with many of the currently available MHPS and GE commercial turbines (100MW +) available off-the-shelf with the capacity to run up to 30% hydrogen.

As a region with a well established heavy industry base, the Illawarra is particularly well placed to capitalise on the use of hydrogen as it makes use of the available skills base, innovation potential and through our connection to the greater inter-connected Sydney area. With this in mind, I have compiled nine potential areas that I believe could be seen in the Illawarra’s ‘hydrogen future’

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  1. H2 vehicle refuelling stations (1-5 years)

·      Hydrogen is already available from industrial gas providers, which could readily be used to supply off-the-shelf designs in the same way it is in Europe and the USA already. The supply for these stations, will over time be changed over to come from local electrolysis plants. This is already being rolled out across Europe where there are 177 stations already in operation.

2.     H2 trucks & buses (1-5 years)

·      Towns across Europe, the USA and Asia have already started operating hydrogen powered bus fleets and these models are now available off-the-shelf. They could readily be adopted by regional bus operators and small businesses, once refuelling infrastructure exists.

·      Hydrogen trucks are fast becoming a reality and it is expected that we will see large scale adoption of these vehicles in the USA and Europe (medium and heavy) starting in 2021.

3.     H2-retrofitted vehicles & plant (1-5 years)

·      Retrofitting existing vehicles with hydrogen injection, batteries &/or hydrogen fuel cells will significantly reduce emissions, improving safety and efficiency of operating these vehicles for local transport, mining, civil engineering and construction companies.

·      Technology currently exists that fits diesel engine vehicles with onboard hydrogen injection (Hytech Power). This has been demonstrated to cut fuel use by up to 30% while significantly reducing emissions. This is currently being trialled in NZ and WA.

4.     H2 manufactured vehicles – H2X (5-10 years)

·      H2X have recently identified the region as the site for a dedicated plant to manufacture hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, including buses, trucks, cars and plant. This will capitalise on the long history of manufacturing in the region, including the available skill base that could readily transfer across to this plant.

5.     H2 use for co-gen power at Tallawarra (5-10 years)

·      Energy Australia have already flagged that they will select a turbine for the expansion that will have the capacity to use blended hydrogen/gas. The current turbine is also fitted with this capability, with a potential to use up to 30% hydrogen blended with mains gas. This will significantly reduce emissions and potentially extend the life of this plant.

·      This will require the development of a hydrogen supply chain to feed the plant, which in turn provides an opportunity for local businesses to be part of the hydrogen industry.

6.     H2 export/import at Port Kembla (5-10 years)

·      Export of ‘clean’ hydrogen through Port Kembla. The use of renewables to power hydrogen production is currently one of the primary discussion points in this space, with the available space in the port, it is not unforeseeable that we could see a dedicated hydrogen export facility alongside the AIE gas import terminal. This is being trialled in Victoria, with hydrogen being manufactured from brown coal and shipped to Japan in purpose built tankers.

7.     H2 use for steel production (10+ years)

·      The concept of ‘green steel’ has not been commercially implemented, however, hydrogen as part of the process for energy generation may feature in future power systems. A transition of the blast furnace to a hydrogen mix is already being trialled and we will see results of this from the steel works in Europe in the coming years (ThyssenKrup).

8.     H2 use within existing gas networks for residential & commercial (10+ years)

·      Trials are currently underway in South Australia to trial blending 5% hydrogen with natural gas to augment existing networks. If this is successful, the same implementation could be rolled out in the Illawarra, once a hydrogen supply chain has been established.

9.     H2 for aviation (10+ years)

·      Many of us would have seen the ongoing developments in the ‘flying taxi’ concept, but how many people realise that hydrogen is the next step for this industry? Initial roll-out of these services is being trialled in the middle east and Europe, with a number of companies in Australia also looking at this technology. Small scale airlines are also looking into the development of commercial aircraft with ranges of up to 800km, where hydrogen can become a viable replacement for standard turbine engines.

The implementation of these hydrogen technologies is already well underway in various countries around the world and will only continue to grow as they become understood by governments and businesses alike. How rapidly they are implemented here in Australia will be dependent on our ability to develop an effective hydrogen supply chain and once we do, the Illawarra region is well placed to be at the forefront of this development. With the regions significant industrial heritage, large technical skills base and numerous industries that could benefit, the Illawarra could become one of the leaders in the ‘hydrogen future’.

Note. Hydrogen is not a ‘stand-alone’ fuel, nor it is the only technology we will see being adopted across the region and rest of the country. Hydrogen should not be seen as a competitor to the continuous improvement of industry, as it is simply another way of doing business that will be suited to some industries, but not every industry. However, if we are to follow the example of Europe, Asia and North America, then we will do well to ensure we understand what hydrogen is, as it offers a number of potential benefits.”

Written by Dan Henricson.
Crisis, Risk & Operations Management Professional. Board Member @ i3network