Currently, the transportation and storage of hydrogen (H2) is complex and relatively expensive, making export commercially challenging, particularly for fairly small H2 markets like Australia.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia’s ‘innovation catalyst’, hopes to fill this gap in the global energy technology chain, to supply fuel cell vehicles with low-emissions H2 sourced from Australia.

The two-year project recently received $1.7m from the Science and Industry Endowment Fund (SIEF), which will be matched by CSIRO. The research has also been welcomed by industry and is supported by BOC, Hyundai, Toyota and Renewable Hydrogen Pty Ltd.

CSIRO has applied its existing expertise in separating pure H2 from mixed gas streams, and has invented ‘membrane reactor technology’. This comes in the form of a modular unit that can be used at, or near, a refueling station. The membrane will allow H2 to be transported in the form of ammonia (which is already being traded globally), and then reconverted back to H2 at the point of use. The thin metal membrane allows H2 to pass, while blocking all other gases.

CSIRO CEO Dr. Larry Marshall is excited by the prospect of a growing global market for clean H2, and the potential for a national renewable H2 export industry, to benefit Australia.

“This is a watershed moment for energy, and we look forward to applying CSIRO innovation to enable this exciting renewably-sourced fuel and energy storage medium a smoother path to market,” Dr Marshall said.

“I’m delighted to see strong collaboration and the application of CSIRO know-how to what is a key part of the overall energy mix,” he continued.

Chair of Renewable Hydrogen, Brett Cooper believes CSIRO’s membrane technology can enable a new, and potentially carbon-free, export industry for Australia that could match the scale of the current LNG industry.

“With this technology, we can now deliver our renewable energy to Japan, Korea and across the Asia-Pacific region in liquid form, as renewable ammonia, and efficiently convert it back to pure H2 for cars, buses, power generation and industrial processes,” Cooper said.

In the final stages of development, the device is being further refined, ready for commercial deployment.