Described as a “watershed moment for energy” by CEO Dr. Larry Marshall, earlier this month Australia’s national science agency - the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) - revealed two cars powered by hydrogen (H2) derived from ammonia were successfully demonstrated in Brisbane.

Using CSIRO’s membrane technology, this is the first time a H2 fuel cell electric vehicle has been successfully fuelled by H2 derived from ammonia.

CSIRO technology accelerates H2 vehicle future

The metal membrane separates ultra-high purity H2 from nitrogen (N2) and ammonia, blocking all other gases during the process. This H2 is formed by cracking the ammonia using CSIRO’s technology. The gases are then passed through the metal membrane which has a special coating to trap all gases except pure- H2.

The technology will pave the way for bulk H2 to be transported in the form of ammonia, using existing infrastructure, and then reconverted back to H2 at the point of use.

Exactly one year ago today, BOC South Pacific announced its collaboration with CSIRO on this project set to revolutionise the global supply chain for H2. The Tier One company will supply the ammonia, which will be cracked and purified into pure H2 by the modular membrane technology unit developed by CSIRO.

BOC and CSIRO to collaborate on revolutionary $3.4m hydrogen project in Australia

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Source: BOC South Pacific

“There’s no question that CSIRO’s technology is at the forefront,” said Alex Dronoff (above), BOC South Pacific’s General Manager for H2 and LNG in an exclusive interview with gasworld.

“The key achievement celebrated earlier this month with the CSIRO research team was the successful demonstration of the membrane technology, which has proved its effectiveness and reliability from production, right through to point of use.”

In the lead up to this milestone, BOC’s innovative engineers and chemists worked closely with CSIRO researchers to provide technical advice and laboratory support – as well as in-kind ammonia feedstock, compression and storage equipment.

The membrane technology developed by CSIRO is an Australian born and bred technology, but does it have the potential to fill the gap in the technology chain to supply fuel cell vehicles around the world with low-emissions H2 sourced from Australia?

“BOC believes this CSIRO technology is an important development for the global industry, which complements much of the pioneering work that The Linde Group has been driving for decades,” Dronoff, replied.

“The responsibility is now on the industry to build facilities that support cracking and membrane technology at a large industrial scale – allowing deployment in other countries that have the skills and infrastructure to support this process and technology.”

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Source: BOC South Pacific

(L-R) Dr. Michael Dolan, Alex Dronoff, David Harris and Billy Chan

Next steps

The project is now entering a new developmental and commercialisation phase that involves testing the technology on a much larger scale.

“The CSIRO demonstration proved you can fill two H2 vehicles with 5 kilograms of H2 each. Each car can travel approximately 700 kilometres on this amount of H2,” explained Dronoff, who was elected to the Hydrogen Mobility Australia board last week and will represent BOC.

“The next phase will step it up from 15 kilograms per day to proving effectiveness of producing 200 kilograms per day of H2. This plant may be deployed in Australia, Japan, Korea or the US.”

Australia has massive potential for stable renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Coupled with the CSIRO membrane reactor technology and infrastructure investment, Australia could create new export opportunities for renewable H2.

“We need to look at the export boom in the context of what commitments countries have made to the Paris Agreement to reduce global warming – and continue to demonstrate the economic and environmental value that H2 fuel can offer,” Dronoff continued.

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Source: CSIRO

“It is already clear that in addition to Europe creating low emissions markets, that Japan and South Korea will be key drivers of large-scale H2 in the future.”

“While Australia has huge potential for renewable energy, the industry is still in its infancy. Continued investment is needed by industry, state and federal governments to ensure continued growth and development.”

“Once alignment is reached, infrastructure challenges will depend on each market. The H2 mobility market will lead the way with infrastructure already being established for buses, train and ships – a critical first step for demonstrating the advantages of pure-H2 fuelled mobility.”

Concluding, he said, “As individuals we all have a responsibility to do whatever we can to help reduce CO2 emissions and slow down the effects of global warming. This can be done in a couple of ways, the first by conserving energy at home and using cleaner gaseous fuels in our cars and households such as LPG, CNG, LNG and eventually hydrogen. Secondly, by harnessing our natural solar and wind resources in Australia, then leveraging technology to produce products such as renewable H2 and ammonia for local use and export.”

“All governments, industries and individuals have this responsibility to ensure quality of life for future generations.”

Interview: BOC discusses recent collaboration on Australian H2 project with CSIRO

The Hydrogen Economy in Australia

While there have been no major infrastructure developments yet, there are certainly some in the pipeline. The clear focus in Australia over the last year has been on advancing H2 research and development with various governments launching roadmaps and supporting studies.

Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel recently published a report on the potential of the Hydrogen Economy and presented at the latest Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting on the subject.

Similarly, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) published a detailed report on the opportunities that renewable H2 presents to Australia and has renewable ammonia export as one of its four key investment priorities.

The South Australian Government has also been focusing on ammonia production, H2 mobility and export opportunities. While a local council in Melbourne, with support from the Victorian Government, is considering introducing a fleet of H2 fuelled garbage trucks.

Queensland and Western Australian Governments are also showing a commitment to the H2 economy by exploring opportunities for local production and export.