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When it comes to decarbonising the economy, Australia has the potential to punch above its weight to become a renewable energy superpower. Achieving this ambition, however, will require significant investment into the industries of tomorrow. Initiatives such as ARENA’s Hydrogen Headstart have a critical role to play.

Across the globe, governments are rolling out various energy transformation packages, increasing the pressure to remain competitive in the push to net zero. While Australia can’t match the likes of the Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act, recent investments from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) tap into the country’s unique advantages in this evolving green energy landscape.

“The history of Australian innovation is rarely a history of inordinate sums of capital. Instead, we’ve played best when playing to our competitive advantages,” ARENA CEO Darren Miller said. “The government’s Hydrogen Headstart program, administered by ARENA, is a timely example of Australia playing to our strengths. The program will deliver $2 billion in funding over ten years to help Australia capitalise on its natural resource advantages to become a hydrogen heavyweight.”

Australia’s natural resources are key to achieving the government’s renewable energy superpower vision. “Our nation records the highest average solar radiation per square metre of any continent on Earth and our wind resources are among the best in the world. “Australian renewables can satisfy our domestic energy needs, as well as be harnessed to transform our economy. And that transformation will require hydrogen.”

The role of renewable hydrogen

The precise role hydrogen will play in Australia’s decarbonised economy remains unknown due to various factors, including the dynamic nature of the technology itself.

Addressing these uncertainties will require targeted investment and appropriate policy settings, designed for the evolving environment necessary for fostering innovation. Mr Miller said hydrogen has the potential to help decarbonise heavy industries such as steel making and alumina production.

“Australia’s miners are the world’s leading exporters of iron ore and the world’s largest producers of bauxite. If key markets start imposing green tariffs, then opportunities should appear for Australia to process emissions-free products rather than just export raw materials.

“Hydrogen has the potential to become a leading emissions-free fuel for powering long distance heavy land transport, planes and shipping.

Together, these account for around 10 per cent of all global emissions. Hydrogen is a key ingredient in ammonia, which in turn is vital for fertiliser production and many manufacturing processes. “All told, high potential renewable hydrogen applications could tackle up to 15 per cent of global emissions. Closer to home, hydrogen is key to preserving domestic industries, not to mention helping to create new export opportunities that could even exceed our current fossil fuel revenues.”

Hydrogen headstart

Against this background, the Hydrogen Headstart initiative will offer financial support to bridge the current economic gap for participants.

It is intended to scale up green hydrogen production in Australia to allow the country to compete on the global stage. “In that regard, Hydrogen Headstart is our first big step towards achieving our renewable energy superpower vision,” Mr Miller said.

“Achieving that bold superpower vision requires an equally bold strategic approach, but boldness will be rewarded with benefits to our economy and the climate. “The alternative is an Australia continually playing catch-up with other economies and potentially losing out as the world makes its inevitable shift to net zero.”

As Australia scales-up its green hydrogen production, building an all-australian hydrogen electrolyser, like the pioneering technology being developed by Hysata, becomes critical. ARENA’s support has helped develop this project, which is getting the chance to prove itself at a commercial scale.

Queensland Government-owned power company Stanwell Corporation is providing the site and facilities where the system’s trial will take place, and backing the project with $3 million. If it works, the project has the potential to transform the economics of renewable hydrogen production. Mr Miller says the project is a crucial step to enabling purchase orders for the technology.

“Hysata’s electrolyser technology could be a game-changer for renewable hydrogen. “The demonstration at Stanwell’s site will be key to unlocking commercial demand for Hysata’s product by proving the technology works at scale.”

Currently, the production cost of renewable hydrogen (using renewable energy) is at least twice that of hydrogen produced from fossil fuels. Hysata says its technology will slash costs and produce hydrogen “well below” a competitive target price of $2 per kilogram (approx. US$1.50/kg).

Hysata’s technology explained

Until now, electrolysers have produced a lot of heat due to electrical resistance. The heat generated is not only wasted energy, but it must also be removed. Electrolysers need a lot of cooling and that uses even more energy. Hysata has tackled this problem by completely redesigning their electrolyser to remove all the main sources of electrical resistance. It turns out, that means eliminating hydrogen and oxygen bubbles.

When bubbles form on the electrolyser’s electrodes, they reduce the surface area available for electrolysis and increase resistance. Hysata says it has completely eliminated bubbles from its system and cut electrical resistance to virtually zero. As a result, Hysata says it expects a fully operational electrolyser will stay cool through good air ventilation alone.

The combined effect is what has raised the overall efficiency of a Hysata electrolyser to around 95 per cent. That’s a huge jump on current technologies, which operate with efficiencies closer to 75 per cent. To put that in context, to make renewable hydrogen competitive with its fossil-fuel derived alternative, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in 2020 set an electrolyser efficiency target of up to 85 per cent by 2050.

Making progress

Hysata CEO Paul Barrett said the project marked a significant milestone. “Green hydrogen is critical for decarbonisation of hard-toabate sectors. We are committed to helping our customers deliver the world’s lowest cost green hydrogen. “With exceptional 95 per cent efficiency combined with cost-effective materials and reduced engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) costs, Hysata’s electrolyser will transform the economics of green hydrogen production.”

Stanwell CEO Michael O’Rourke said Hysata represented an important step in developing Queensland’s renewable hydrogen industry. “The development of a renewable hydrogen industry is a key component of our energy transformation. “The potential to utilise high efficiency Australian technology in large-scale hydrogen projects would be a real advantage.” Initial development of the system is currently underway, with the field pilot at Stanwell due to commence in 2025.

To read more about the ARENA Hydrogen Headstart program, visit www.arena.gov.au

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