Hydrogen is the simplest element, the most plentiful in the universe. But this common gas is no lightweight. In fact, both ARENA and CSIRO believe that hydrogen could be the missing element that allows us to develop an export industry for renewable energy to one day rival liquefied natural gas.
The potential of hydrogen is enormous: it can heat buildings, power vehicles and supply industrial heat – all with little to no emissions. In September 2018, ARENA provided $22.1 million in funding for 16 research projects to accelerate the development of renewable hydrogen so that Australia is well positioned to seize the opportunities of this emerging industry. It follows on from ground-breaking research by CSIRO in August 2018 which separated ultra-high purity hydrogen from ammonia, blocking all other gases. The membrane technology developed by CSIRO paves the way for bulk hydrogen to be transported as ammonia using existing infrastructure and then reconverted into hydrogen at the point of use. If this opportunity is managed properly, low-emissions hydrogen produced in Australia could supply fuel cell vehicles around the world. ARENA says that with the right conditions, hydrogen exports could be worth $1.7 billion annually and generate 2800 jobs in Australia by 2030.
Renewable hydrogen’s export potential is also fuelling plans for the massive Asia Renewable Energy Hub in north-west WA. The giant hybrid wind and solar project aims to provide cheap energy to the Pilbara’s local manufacturing base and export renewable energy to south-east Asia via a sub-sea cable. The hub’s 7.5 GW of wind turbines and 3.5 GW of solar PV arrays could generate more than 40 terawatt hours of energy per annum, which equates to nearly 20 per cent of Australia’s total electricity generation.