How hydrogen power can help us cut emissions, boost exports, and even drive further between refills



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Could this be the way to fill up in future?
CSIRO, Author provided

Sam Bruce, CSIRO

Hydrogen could become a significant part of Australia’s energy landscape within the coming decade, competing with both natural gas and batteries, according to a new CSIRO roadmap for the industry.

Hydrogen gas is a versatile energy carrier with a wide range of potential uses. However, hydrogen is not freely available in the atmosphere as a gas. It therefore requires an energy input and a series of technologies to produce, store and then use it.

Why would we bother? Because hydrogen has several advantages over other energy carriers, such as batteries. It is a single product that can service multiple markets and, if produced using low- or zero-emissions energy sources, it can help us significantly cut greenhouse emissions.

Potential uses for hydrogen.
CSIRO, Author provided

Compared with batteries, hydrogen can release more energy per unit of mass. This means that in contrast to electric battery-powered cars, it can allow passenger vehicles to cover longer distances without refuelling. Refuelling is quicker too, and is likely to stay that way.

The benefits are potentially even greater for heavy vehicles such as buses and trucks which already carry heavy payloads, and where lengthy battery recharge times can affect business models.




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Could hydrogen fuel cell trucks drive our sustainable transport future?


Hydrogen can also play an important role in energy storage, which will be increasingly necessary both in remote operations such as mine sites, and as part of the electricity grid to help smooth out the contribution of renewables such as wind and solar. This could work by using the excess renewable energy (when generation is high and/or demand is low) to drive hydrogen production via electrolysis of water. The hydrogen can then be stored as compressed gas and put into a fuel cell to generate electricity when needed.

Australia is heavily reliant on imported liquid fuels and does not currently have enough liquid fuel held in reserve. Moving towards hydrogen fuel could potentially alleviate this problem. Hydrogen can also be used to produce industrial chemicals such as ammonia and methanol, and is an important ingredient in petroleum refining.

Further, as hydrogen burns without greenhouse emissions, it is one of the few viable green alternatives to natural gas for generating heat.

Our roadmap predicts that the global market for hydrogen will grow in the coming decades. Among the prospective buyers of Australian hydrogen would be Japan, which is comparatively constrained in its ability to generate energy locally. Australia’s extensive natural resources, namely solar, wind, fossil fuels and available land lend favourably to the establishment of hydrogen export supply chains.

Why embrace hydrogen now?

Given its widespread use and benefit, interest in the “hydrogen economy” has peaked and troughed for the past few decades. Why might it be different this time around? While the main motivation is hydrogen’s ability to deliver low-carbon energy, there are a couple of other factors that distinguish today’s situation from previous years.

Our analysis shows that the hydrogen value chain is now underpinned by a series of mature technologies that are technically ready but not yet commercially viable. This means that the narrative around hydrogen has now shifted from one of technology development to “market activation”.

The solar panel industry provides a recent precedent for this kind of burgeoning energy industry. Large-scale solar farms are now generating attractive returns on investment, without any assistance from government. One of the main factors that enabled solar power to reach this tipping point was the increase in production economies of scale, particularly in China. Notably, China has recently emerged as a proponent for hydrogen, earmarking its use in both transport and distributed electricity generation.

But whereas solar power could feed into a market with ready-made infrastructure (the electricity grid), the case is less straightforward for hydrogen. The technologies to help produce and distribute hydrogen will need to develop in concert with the applications themselves.

A roadmap for hydrogen

In light of this, the primary objective of CSIRO’s National Hydrogen Roadmap is to provide a blueprint for the development of a hydrogen industry in Australia. With several activities already underway, it is designed to help industry, government and researchers decide where exactly to focus their attention and investment.

Our first step was to calculate the price points at which hydrogen can compete commercially with other technologies. We then worked backwards along the value chain to understand the key areas of investment needed for hydrogen to achieve competitiveness in each of the identified potential markets. Following this, we modelled the cumulative impact of the investment priorities that would be feasible in or around 2025.


CSIRO, Author provided

What became evident from the report was that the opportunity for clean hydrogen to compete favourably on a cost basis with existing industrial feedstocks and energy carriers in local applications such as transport and remote area power systems is within reach. On the upstream side, some of the most material drivers of reductions in cost include the availability of cheap low emissions electricity, utilisation and size of the asset.




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The development of an export industry, meanwhile, is a potential game-changer for hydrogen and the broader energy sector. While this industry is not expected to scale up until closer to 2030, this will enable the localisation of supply chains, industrialisation and even automation of technology manufacture that will contribute to significant reductions in asset capital costs. It will also enable the development of fossil-fuel-derived hydrogen with carbon capture and storage, and place downward pressure on renewable energy costs dedicated to large scale hydrogen production via electrolysis.

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The Conversation

In light of global trends in industry, energy and transport, development of a hydrogen industry in Australia represents a real opportunity to create new growth areas in our economy. Blessed with unparalleled resources, a skilled workforce and established manufacturing base, Australia is extremely well placed to capitalise on this opportunity. But it won’t eventuate on its own.

Sam Bruce, Manager, CSIRO Futures, CSIRO

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Removing CO2 from the atmosphere won’t save us: we have to cut emissions now


Pete Smith, University of Aberdeen and Pep Canadell, CSIRO

Over 190 countries are negotiating in Paris a global agreement to stabilise climate change at less than 2℃ above pre-industrial global average temperatures.

For a reasonable chance of keeping warming under 2℃ we can emit a further 865 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2). The climate commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 2030 are a first step, but recent analyses show they are not enough.

So what are the options if we cannot limit emissions to remain within our carbon budget?

Emitting more than the allowance would mean we have to remove carbon from the atmosphere. The more carbon we emit over the coming years, the more we will need to remove in future.

In fact, out of 116 scenarios consistent with 2℃ published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 101 scenarios require the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere during the second half of this century. That’s on top of the large emission reductions required.

So how do we remove carbon from the atmosphere? Several technologies have been proposed to this effect. These are often referred to as “negative emissions technologies” because the carbon is being removed from the atmosphere (in the opposite direction to emissions).

In a study published today in Nature Climate Change, which is part of a broader release by the Global Carbon Project, we investigate how big a role these technologies could play in halting global warming.

We find that these technologies might play a role in climate mitigation. However, the large scales of deployment currently used in most pathways that limit warming to 2℃ will be severely constrained by environmental and socio-economic factors. This increases the pressure to raise the level of ambition in reducing fossil fuel emissions now.


Smith et al. 2015, Nature Climate Change

How to pull carbon out of the atmosphere

The technologies range from relatively simple options, such as planting more trees, which lock up CO2 as they grow, or crushing rocks that naturally absorb CO2 and spreading them on soils and oceans so they remove CO2 more rapidly.

There are also higher-tech options such as using chemicals to absorb CO2 from the air, or burning plants for energy and capturing the CO2 that would otherwise be released, then storing it permanently deep below the ground (called bioenergy with carbon capture and storage).

Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage.
Canadell & Schulze 2014, Nature Communications

We examined the impacts of negative emission technologies on land use, greenhouse gas emissions, water use, earth’s reflectivity (or albedo) and soil nutrient loss, as well as the energy and cost requirements for each technology.

One major limitation that we identified is the vast requirements for land.

About 700 million hectares of land are required to grow biomass for bioenergy with carbon capture and storage at the scale needed in many 2℃ pathways. This would remove more than 3 billion tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere every year and would help to compensate an overshoot in emissions earlier this century.

The area required is close to half of current global arable land plus permanent crop area. If bioenergy with carbon capture and storage were deployed at this scale there would be intense competition with food, water and conservation needs.

This land requirement has made other negative emissions technologies attractive, such as direct air capture. However, current cost estimates for such technologies are between US$1,600 and US$2,000 per tonne of carbon removed from the atmosphere. In contrast, the majority of emissions with a carbon price in 40 national jurisdictions have a cost of less than US$10 per tonne of carbon dioxide.

The study shows that there are many such impacts that vary across technologies. These impacts will need to be addressed and should determine the level at which negative emission technologies can play a role in achieving climate mitigation goals.

Plan A: reduce fossil fuel emissions

We conclude that, given the uncertainties around large-scale deployment of negative emissions technologies, we would be taking a big gamble if actions today were based on the expectation of heavy use of unproven technologies tomorrow.

The use of these technologies will likely be limited due to any combination of the environmental, economic or energy constraints we examined. We conclude that “Plan A” must be to reduce greenhouse gas emissions aggressively now. A failure to initiate such a level of emissions cuts may leave us with no “Plan B” to stabilise the climate within the 2℃ target.

The technologies of today are not the technologies of tomorrow. However, a prudent approach must be based on the level of climate abatement required with available technologies, while strongly investing in the research and development that might lead to breakthroughs that will ease the formidable challenge ahead of us.

The Conversation

Pete Smith, Professor of Soils and Global Change, University of Aberdeen and Pep Canadell, CSIRO Scientist, and Executive Director of Global Carbon Project, CSIRO

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Check In: Day 3 of Holiday


Today was spent chiefly at Dorrigo National Park, where I spent nearly 5 hours on a bushwalk through the wilderness surrounding the Never Never Picnic Area. This is a spectacular area within the Dorrigo National Park. I could quite easily have spent far more time there trekking up both Sassafras Creek and Rosewood Creek. These are some wild streams that cut there way through the heart of the national park. Given all of the recent rain in the region, they were truly at their best today.

The new camera got a work out today, but I am not completely sold on it – though as a camera for panoramic photos it is fantastic and well worth buying for that function alone. The photo I have included with this post is of Rosewood Creek directly above Coachwood Falls. It is a brilliant place and very wild indeed.

I did pick up several leeches throughout the day, with one attaching itself to me just below the left knee. It wasn’t found for some time and had a good feed and I a good bleed after it was removed. Several more were found in my socks but they weren’t able to force their way through.

I’ll be working on the various photos and videos over the next week or so and putting together various packages for the website, Flickr, YouTube, the Blog, etc. There are some really terrific photos and videos among them. Hopefully today’s shot will whet the appetite for the rest of them.