2019 could be a seminal year for the development of a the local hydrogen industry in Australia.

Renewable hydrogen — produced using renewable energy sources such as solar or wind — is a carbon-free fuel that is gaining global interest.

The global Hydrogen Council predicts annual demand for hydrogen will increase tenfold by 2050.

In September, the council, which includes more than 50 global companies in the energy, transport and industry space, committed to ensuring 100 per cent of hydrogen fuel used in transport was renewable by 2030.

Hydrogen demand could increase 10-fold by 2050.


Australian companies see a growth industry

A forum held this week in Western Australia brought together the mining, transport, electricity, infrastructure and government sectors to encourage organisations to establish hydrogen pilot projects in the Mid West region.

This regional forum complements the work being done by the WA Renewable Hydrogen Council, which is expected to deliver its recommendations on a Western Australian renewable hydrogen industry early next year.

Hazer Group (ASX:HZR),  one of the few ASX-listed players dabbling in hydrogen, has a developed a technology for producing hydrogen and graphite from natural gas and iron ore.

It wants to commit to a commercial demonstration plant – a smaller version of the real thing – by early to mid 2019.

Hazer is now looking to secure hydrogen offtake and funding agreements for the $10 million plant, which would produce about 100 tonnes of hydrogen and 375 tonnes of graphite each year.

Hazer boss Geoff Ward told investors the plant would generate early revenue from hydrogen sales.

“Overall interest in the hydrogen sector remains very high,” he says.

“I firmly believe the Hazer technology has a key role to play in the emerging long-term hydrogen economy.

“We are an example of ‘right technology at right time’ to take advantage of the long-term growth in this industry, driven by the value of our products, our anticipated low production cost, our low emissions profile, and capability to provide flexible, scalable hydrogen manufacturing.”

Mining magnate Andrew Forrest has also sunk $20m into helping develop new hydrogen tech.

Mr Forrest’s iron ore miner Fortescue Metals Group (ASX:FMG) is working with the CSIRO on the agency’s metal membrane technology and other technologies.

The technology will pave the way for bulk hydrogen to be transported in the form of ammonia, using existing infrastructure, and then reconverted back to hydrogen at the point of use.

CSIRO chief Larry Marshall says the agency was seeing a “market pull” from companies like Fortescue to reinvent themselves through “deep science-driven innovation” and follow the global market shift towards a low-emissions energy future.

A Toyota Mirai fuel cell vehicle fuelled with CSIRO-produced hydrogen.

And the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) is funding a trial to produce hydrogen using renewable energy and inject it into the Sydney gas network.

The $15 million, two year trial – known as Project H2GO – will connect to gas producer Jemena’s existing gas network.

In the longer term, hydrogen also has the potential to be a major Australian export opportunity, ARENA says.

In October, ARENA announced $22 million in R&D funding for 16 research projects investigating a hydrogen export indusrty.


Hyundai commits $9 billion to hydrogen

Globally, Korean carmaker Hyundai Motor Group – which also owns the Kia brand – committed more than $9 billion across the next 12 years to “accelerate the development of a hydrogen society”.

Hyundai aims to drastically boost annual hydrogen fuel-cell production capacity from 3000 in 2018 to 700,000 units by 2030.

The fuel-cell system combines hydrogen fuel with oxygen to produce electricity, emitting only water as a by-product.

It’s also going to look at supplying fuel-cell systems to other transportation manufacturers of cars, drones, vessels, rolling stocks and forklifts.

The demand for fuel-cell systems from sectors beyond transportation, such as power generation and storage systems, is also expected to emerge quickly, the group told investors.

“We will expand our role beyond the automotive transportation sector and play a pivotal role in global society’s transition to clean energy by helping make hydrogen an economically viable energy source,” said Euisun Chung, executive vice chairman of Hyundai Motor Group.

“We are confident that hydrogen power will transcend the transportation sector and become a leading global economic success.”

Hyandai’s fuel-cell system manufacturing arm has already broken ground on its second fuel-cell system plant in Chungju, South Korea.

This factory will increase annual fuel-cell system output to 40,000 units by 2022.