The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has provided $1.5m in funding for Australia’s first green hydrogen (H2) innovation hub at ATCO’s operations facility in the Perth suburb of Jandakot, Australia.
The project’s centrepiece is a display home where H2 will be tested in household appliances designed for natural gas.
An array of 1100 solar panels paired with battery storage will power the site, diverting excess energy that would otherwise be wasted to produce green H2.
Renewable green H2 is made using electricity generated by renewable sources such as solar and wind, ensuring the process is carbon free.
ATCO is building the Clean Energy Innovation Hub to explore opportunities for surplus renewable energy to be stored as H2.
Head of innovation Samuel Lee Mohan says this journey started more than two years ago when they embarked on a project to understand the role natural gas can play in a residential hybrid energy system.
“We designed a hybrid energy system which uses natural gas as a backup to renewable solar and battery technology. That trial was very successful,” said Mohan.
With the gas industry releasing a vision to be a low carbon energy provider by 2050 and global trends towards decentralisation and decarbonisation, ATCO set out to take their hybrid concept to a commercial scale.
“H2 is a clean energy that can provide storage of intermittent renewable technology. It achieves two things – decentralisation in the short term with H2 as a backup,” Mohan continued.
Looking to the 2050 low carbon vision, Mohan said, “Biogas and H2 have a role to play, and that requires us to innovate today”.
ATCO is on track to have the solar panels installed by August and be producing renewable H2 by March 2019.
H2 will be piped in two lines – one blended in low concentrations with natural gas to test how a cooktop, hot water boiler and space heater respond to different proportions of the renewable gas, and a second delivering 100% H2 for dedicated H2 appliances that will be installed in the future.
The technical challenges aren’t the only barriers to overcome before renewable H2 can start replacing natural gas in homes.
Mohan explained, “One is understanding the engineering and technical challenges of producing and injecting H2 into the gas network. The second is economics. Understanding the cost and time of changing appliances and some network upgrades”.
He believes the technical barriers could be overcome within five to eight years.
Storage vital as renewables take over
As renewables take off, attention is shifting to how surplus electricity generated by solar and wind can be stored for later use to provide dispatchable power. H2 is one option, using excess renewable energy to power an electrolyser that separates water molecules into H2 and oxygen (O2).
ATCO’s electrolyser will be powered entirely by onsite solar, creating renewable H2 that is completely free of emissions. The system is expected to deliver enough electricity to produce about four tonnes of renewable H2 per year.
H2 has upsides over other storage technologies, being easily stored and transported, able to quickly fill fuel tanks and only emitting water vapour when used to power a fuel cell.
The Clean Energy Innovation Hub will also use H2 to power a fuel cell to stabilise the electricity supply, in addition to combusting it in the place of natural gas in domestic appliances.