Scientists have been experimenting with the possibilities of sustainable energy for decades now. Almost a hundred years ago, a scientist called JB Haldane imagined a future where wind power could generate hydrogen, which would act as the most efficient storage solution for energy distribution. Haldane felt that the possibility was centuries away, but new research indicates that a hydrogen economy could become a realistic solution much sooner, thanks to new innovations in the world of hydrogen generation, transport, and storage.
The key thing to remember here is that hydrogen isn’t a fuel in itself, but a carrier for other sources of energy. The gas is produced by splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen through electrolysis. That molecule is then condensed into a liquid, which can be used a lot like diesel or petrol. If we can find a strategy for using hydrogen energy more economically, the result could be a new export market in Australia.
Sourcing Sustainable, Clean Energy
Today, people all over the world are exploring new opportunities for environmentally-friendly sources of power. The accessibility of commercial solar energy is growing, and wind farms are popping up across the globe. Now, we’re beginning to discover that hydrogen could be the ultimate source of clean energy, and one of the cheapest alternatives to petrol or diesel, too.
The question is if hydrogen is so effective, why isn’t it already being used as a fuel source? Part of the problem is our pre-existing infrastructure. After all, we can’t just stop using petrol cars overnight and start using hydrogen instead. Using hydrogen at scale will require significant infrastructure investment, all the way from fueling stations, to product development. The scattered population in Australia might make that process difficult, and expensive – at least for now.
Because of the complexities of infrastructure, some experts are beginning to focus on the potential for Australia to become an energy exportation destination for hydrogen. This is because Australia has a much greater potential to generate sustainable energy than other countries like Japan, which doesn’t have as much open space and sunlight.
The Possibility of a Hydrogen Economy
For example, the Pilbara could be one of the best solar resources in the world, thanks to the lack of clouds, and the sunlight intensity. This means that it’s possible to set up a huge solar farm in that region, convert the energy into hydrogen, and then export it across the globe, to Japan and other countries. The hydrogen can act as a vector for energy, transporting PV energy to the fuel tank of a hydrogen-powered vehicle in Tokyo, for instance.
Of course, there is a question of how the hydrogen should be transported to Japan. Compressing it into liquid form is very energy intensive, which removes some of the sustainability benefits of a hydrogen economy. Another option is to combine hydrogen and nitrogen to make ammonia. This technique has been done an industrial scale for almost a century. The only thing missing was the ability to separate the nitrogen and hydrogen at the end of the export.
Fortunately, a new pilot plant has been announced which can refine hydrogen from ammonia using an innovative membrane. The pilot will begin to generate about five kilograms of hydrogen a day from gas ammonia. However, this proof of concept could be the last answer that Australia needs to start exporting its sunshine to countries across the globe.