Get Regular Updates!
Search
|Hydrogen is blowing up: from science experiment to export industry

Tech

image|

Photo by Darren Halstead on Unsplash

Hydrogen is blowing up: from science experiment to export industry

Hydrogen is blowing up: from science experiment to export industry

Remember those science experiment cars powered by water? That technology could help Australia decarbonise its economy and become a major player in a zero-emissions world.

Hydrogen is blowing up: from science experiment to export industry

Did you ever do the science experiment at school where you fuelled little plastic cars with water?

Those neat little guys were a cool way to learn about electrolysis, the process of using electricity to split water into two gases: hydrogen and oxygen. These gases became the fuel, and zip! The car would move.

A fun science demonstration, sure. But what if this technology could be used to decarbonise the economy and establish a valuable export industry for Australia?

Key to unlocking the energy industry potential of liquid hydrogen is Steph Munro. She’s a chemical engineering whiz and Visiting Student Researcher at UWA’s Australian Centre for LNG Futures. Steph is part of a team working towards making hydrogen a viable energy source.

“In recent years, we’ve seen growing pressure to decarbonise the economy, and government is encouraging this,” Steph says.

“Future energy use will come from greener sources, and hydrogen will potentially be a major player in this area.”

So how does hydrogen work as a fuel?

Burn, baby!

When burned, hydrogen produces water and releases a lot of heat as energy. That makes it a great fuel with no carbon emissions. But how does the process work?

Video|FuseSchool – Global Education
Hydrogen and fuel cells explained

Until now, hydrogen has mainly been used for various industrial processes. But there’s a significant opportunity for hydrogen to be used for electricity, transport, heat and more.

“Hydrogen has become a major player in this area. And that’s because it’s perfect for decarbonising parts of the economy that are difficult to electrify,” Steph says.

Take long-haul trucks, for example. Because they travel such vast distances, electric batteries aren’t suitable. No battery can cover the distance required, and they take too long to recharge. But a hydrogen-fuelled truck can be quickly refuelled, just like a diesel-fuelled truck.

View Larger
Image|Toyota
Project Portal beta fuel-cell truck prototype, which can reportedly travel 480km between fills

So that little toy fuel cell car from science class? Imagine that, but a long-haul truck.

Going global

As the global demand for hydrogen grows, exporting hydrogen could be big for Australia.

In 2030, the annual liquid hydrogen demand from China, Japan, South Korea and Singapore is likely to be 3.8 million tonnes, according to CSIRO. That could represent almost $10 billion a year for the Australian economy.

“There is an opportunity for Australia to export hydrogen to nations that don’t have the renewable energy infrastructure to decarbonise their economy,” Steph says.

So what are we waiting for?

The challenges

Like anything requiring new infrastructure, there are significant challenges to overcome.

“The main challenge with hydrogen is that it exists at atmospheric conditions as a gas, which takes up a large volume,” Steph says. “That can be a problem if you want to import 900,000 tonnes as a fuel.”

“This is why natural gas is exported as LNG or liquefied natural gas.”

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to liquefy hydrogen. In order to liquefy gases, you need to cool them to very cold temperatures.

“Natural gas liquefies at -161°C, but hydrogen gas liquefies at -253°C. That requires a lot of energy,” Steph says.

It’s so hard to cool things down that, in a tank of liquid hydrogen, more than one-third of the energy goes towards liquefying it.

View Larger
Image|Kawasaki Heavy Industries
The world’s first liquid hydrogen carrier, which will pilot the export of hydrogen to Japan

“We’re currently working on leveraging our knowledge in LNG to make liquefaction more energy efficient,” Steph says.

“There are a number of conceptual models of liquefaction plants that are much more efficient. The next step is developing those conceptual plants into reality.”

And lastly, liquid hydrogen is just a bit weird. “Because liquid hydrogen exists at such cold temperatures, we don’t yet totally understand it. That makes ironing out inefficiencies quite difficult,” Steph says.

“Due to these challenges, we’re likely to see a hydrogen industry that embraces multiple technologies, not just liquid hydrogen.”

The next steps

While there are challenges, bright minds are working on meeting them.

In the meantime, we’ll be playing with our fuel-cell toys …

 

Find out more about Steph’s work at the Australian Centre for LNG Futures.

To find out more about Australia’s national hydrogen strategy, listen to this Grattan Institute podcast featuring Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel AO.

We love science puns VIDEO

Republish

Creative Commons Logo

Republishing our content

We want our stories to be shared and seen by as many people as possible.

Therefore, unless it says otherwise, copyright on the stories on Particle belongs to Scitech and they are published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

This allows you to republish our articles online or in print for free. You just need to credit us and link to us, and you can’t edit our material or sell it separately.

Using the ‘republish’ button on our website is the easiest way to meet our guidelines.

Guidelines

You cannot edit the article.

When republishing, you have to credit our authors, ideally in the byline. You have to credit Particle with a link back to the original publication on Particle.

If you’re republishing online, you must use our pageview counter, link to us and include links from our story. Our page view counter is a small pixel-ping (invisible to the eye) that allows us to know when our content is republished. It’s a condition of our guidelines that you include our counter. If you use the ‘republish’ then you’ll capture our page counter.

If you’re republishing in print, please email us to let us so we know about it (we get very proud to see our work republished) and you must include the Particle logo next to the credits. Download logo here.

If you wish to republish all our stories, please contact us directly to discuss this opportunity.

Images

Most of the images used on Particle are copyright of the photographer who made them.

It is your responsibility to confirm that you’re licensed to republish images in our articles.

Video

All Particle videos can be accessed through YouTube under the Standard YouTube Licence.

The Standard YouTube licence

  1. This licence is ‘All Rights Reserved’, granting provisions for YouTube to display the content, and YouTube’s visitors to stream the content. This means that the content may be streamed from YouTube but specifically forbids downloading, adaptation, and redistribution, except where otherwise licensed. When uploading your content to YouTube it will automatically use the Standard YouTube licence. You can check this by clicking on Advanced Settings and looking at the dropdown box ‘License and rights ownership’.
  2. When a user is uploading a video he has license options that he can choose from. The first option is “standard YouTube License” which means that you grant the broadcasting rights to YouTube. This essentially means that your video can only be accessed from YouTube for watching purpose and cannot be reproduced or distributed in any other form without your consent.

Contact

For more information about using our content, email us: particle@scitech.org.au

Copy this HTML into your CMS
Press Ctrl+C to copy

We've got chemistry. Want something physical?