The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) announced a trial for a new type of electrolyzer which could see excess renewable energy stored in the gas grid and used to decarbonize Australia’s gas supply.
On behalf of the Australian Government, ARENA has provided A$5 million (US$4 million) in funding to Wollongong-based AquaHydrex to develop commercially its new class of electrolyzer to produce cheap hydrogen from splitting water. In partnership with Australian Gas Networks (AGN), which owns the gas distribution network in South Australia, AquaHydrex will design and build an electrolyzer pilot plant to trial injecting a small amount of hydrogen into the South Australian gas grid in a process known as “power-to-gas”.
Power-to-gas involves converting electricity into hydrogen by splitting water, then injecting this into the gas grid, providing long-term energy storage and stabilization of variable output solar and wind power.
ARENA Chief Executive Ivor Frischknecht said this demonstration is the first Australian trial to test power-to-gas that will see hydrogen being injected into the gas network.
Hydrogen can be injected directly into the natural gas network without modification at levels of at least 10%, with some experts recently suggesting levels closer to 30% are viable to supplement our gas needs. Depending on the material the gas pipeline is made out of, the network can support up to 100% hydrogen in due course, once appropriate regulatory transition and appliance modifications are implemented. When hydrogen burns, it produces only water vapor and no carbon dioxide.
There is huge untapped potential in power-to-gas to convert surplus renewable energy to hydrogen and use our existing gas network infrastructure for long-term, safe, reliable energy storage. In the future, there will be increasing amounts of surplus renewable energy when it is sunny or windy.—Ivor Frischknecht
AquaHydrex was founded in 2012, based on foundation IP developed at ACES (ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials) – University of Wollongong and Monash University nodes.
ACES Energy Program Leader Professor Doug MacFarlane said that the AquaHydrex technologies involve novel catalytic processes that enhance the efficient electrolysis of water to produce hydrogen.
AquaHydrex Managing Director Paul Barrett said the funding would bring the Australian developed innovation closer to producing cheap hydrogen at commercial scale. Storing renewable energy directly in the gas network was a logical first route to market for the invention.
The volumetric potential of renewable energy stored in the Australian gas infrastructure could be as much as 6 billion household Li-ion batteries. This provides what is for all intents and purposes a ‘bottomless battery’ that is already in place and capable of storing and transporting vast amounts of time-shifted renewable energy.—AGN CEO Ben Wilson