Jul 28 2022

Hydrogen: Big opportunities, but bigger barriers?

The Australian Energy Council has released the latest paper in its series of discussion papers examining the options for broader decarbonisation of the economy. 

The AEC has proposed an interim economy-wide emission reduction target of 55 per cent from 2005 levels by 2035 and the papers are intended to assess the challenges and opportunities for decarbonisation. This fourth paper comes as the Federal Government introduces legislation enshrine an Australian interim emissions target. It looks at hydrogen, which is both a potential substitute for liquid fuels and an emerging complementary technology to intermittent renewable energy, such as wind and solar.  

Surplus electricity produced by renewables can also be converted into hydrogen via electrolysis to produce green hydrogen. Hydrogen is a fuel that is challenging to manage. Green hydrogen will need to be compressed, stored, transported to where it is needed and then consumed to produce electricity, provide heat for industrial processes or power engines. Developing a low-cost hydrogen supply chain could, in theory, be able to replace much of the existing fossil fuel supply chain. 

Hydrogen is not a single technology. It requires multiple processes: production, compression, storage, transport and use in generators and other industrial processes. Each of these stages is challenging. 

Independent reviews of the cost of producing, compressing and storing hydrogen vary, as is common for nascent technologies. There is wide diversity in what is considered the most efficient technique for storage: low pressure tanks, cryogenics or underground salt caverns? 

Moving hydrogen is challenging because it requires enormous amounts of energy for liquefaction (almost absolute zero), is small and light so is hard to compress (in pipelines), leaks easily and disperses quickly, embrittles metals and burns at high temperatures. It is ubiquitous and extreme, the antipode of most “conventional” resources. 

Research into the various component parts of the hydrogen supply chain is important and should continue. Its potential is considerable; however, it is prudent to take a considered perspective of the technology as it is still a long way away from delivering on its potential. Policymakers should temper their enthusiasm when promoting hydrogen as a panacea to the challenges in the energy transition. 

Click here to read the full report. 

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