GOT GAS: Australia needs to act now to claim hydrogen leadership
Much has been made about how hydrogen is one of the key planks in the world’s push towards net zero emissions and how Australia can be a leading producer of the gas for the rest of the world.
The first is easy to see.
While batteries will undoubtedly have a major role to play in storing power generated from renewables such as solar photovoltaics and wind, hydrogen can also perform the same task on an arguably larger scale.
Solar and wind can power electrolysers that split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The resulting hydrogen can be used in vehicles – particularly in commercial and industrial vehicles that can’t afford long recharge times – or burnt in power plants when the sun isn’t shining or the wind not blowing.
Hydrogen can also be used to produce green steel by replacing coking coal, which drastically reduces emissions from one of the largest polluters globally.
Australia’s potential to be a hydrogen superpower is also easy to see.
We have vast tracts of sun-kissed land that would easily swallow giant solar farms and many kilometres of coastline with no shortage of wind that could power the needed electrolysers to produce hydrogen in export quantities.
This could potentially deliver a new export product which could replace liquefied natural gas.
But to get there, concrete action needs to be taken now.
To highlight the reason why, you only need to look to the LNG sector with which hydrogen shares many similarities.
Both deal with a gas that can deliver energy through a chemical reaction (yes, burning is a chemical reaction), both have an export focus – more on that in a sec – and they have both being touted in their own times as being better for the environment (LNG as a lower carbon replacement for coal and green hydrogen being essentially emissions free).
The similarities aren’t limited to the benefits either.
Just like we did with LNG, there is the ongoing challenge of figuring out the most effective means of storing and transporting hydrogen – along with the added fun of trying to improve on the cost of producing said green hydrogen without the shortcuts that some say are necessary.
And while it might be well and good to try developing a domestic hydrogen industry, the truth is that the costs involved with getting the hydrogen sector off the ground means that the export is unavoidable.
Now here’s the thing. The hydrogen sector is currently in its infancy and has a long road ahead of it and just like LNG, we are talking about the development of a sector which can take many years or even decades to fully develop.
And while there are certainly some major projects on the drawing boards, real action will need to be taken now at all levels. And we are not talking about piddling amounts for sometimes questionable research projects or non-green hydrogen projects.
Both government and industry will have to push the green hydrogen agenda for Australia to at least stay competitive because we are certainly not the only ones aiming for that goal.