By Robyn Molloy
Clean energy took a leap towards the future last week, with the launch of ATCO’s $3.6 million Clean Energy Innovation Hub coinciding with the State Government’s launch of the WA Renewable Hydrogen Strategy and $10m fund to attract private investment.
Researchers at the Jandakot facility have been experimenting with different combinations of energy blends including natural gas, solar, battery storage and hydrogen to see what role hydrogen can play in a hybrid microgrid, ultimately reducing emissions.
A 300kW solar array at the hub powers an electrolysis unit which splits water molecules into hydrogen and vents oxygen. The hydrogen is then piped into a modular home.
ATCO chair and CEO Nancy Southern, visiting from Canada, said while the company was still testing the viability of renewable hydrogen, all the signs were pointing towards it being “an opportunity that comes along once in a lifetime”.
She said early results had revealed the use of hydrogen in the energy mix could potentially change the face of remote sites, including mining operations, through fully enclosed renewable energy systems.
“Just imagine a mining camp fully enclosed with a renewable energy system using hydrogen, producing the water, using natural gas as a blend, but giving the miners a great opportunity to house their people in a renewable camp in a modernised environment as well as using it for their mining operations.
“I really think the possibilities are endless, obviously economics are going to play a big role in how fast we get to where we want to go.
“All signs are that this is truly an opportunity that comes along once in a lifetime. I have no doubt that we will get the economics in line.”
Southern said the company had manufactured the first hydrogen stove and cooktop and was also testing how much hydrogen could be blended with natural gas for use with existing nozzles on gas appliances such as heaters.
“This next step is actually to use a closed system, using the pipes to provide hydrogen energy to appliances, heating, lighting in a home that’s here on site,” Southern said.
“Our goal is to be able to distribute within the natural gas stream a blend of hydrogen that will further reduce the emissions from natural gas, and maybe even one day those pipes will actually be an immense opportunity for hydrogen storage for energy in the future use of our small, medium and large industries and households alike. It’s really a very promising future.
“What we are doing is testing how much hydrogen we can put into the existing system without changing the nozzles on the appliances. That is really going to be the key.
“It won’t take us too long to figure out where that optimum piece is in terms of the blend and then we’ll have to make some decisions.”
Southern said support from the Federal and State governments, including $1.6 million from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and the newly launched strategy were crucial for the success of the industry.
“With the use of natural gas becoming more prolific, affordable, reliable energy source; blended with hydrogen we are actually in position to pave the way for the rest of the world. It is a very exciting opportunity for us.”
Regional Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan said the hydrogen strategy would put WA at the forefront of what will be a global energy industry, with major companies hungry for ways to drive down their carbon emissions.
“We have got to be out there ahead of the game, really trying to make sure that WA is positioned to be part of this industry, to be right up there in the front with our companies that are telling us they want to do this.”
She said establishing the hydrogen industry would diversify the economy and create jobs, especially in the regions. The State Government committed $10m to a fund to attract private sector investment in renewable hydrogen.
View the WA Renewable Hydrogen Strategy here.
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