Pilot project first step to decarbonise gas

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A pilot project that will see hydrogen injected into the gas network is now underway in Australia.

The project will use excess energy generated by wind, solar and other renewables to convert water into hydrogen that is injected into the gas network to provide energy without carbon emissions.

Australian Gas Networks has taken the first step on the road to decarbonising Australia’s gas supply by teaming up with another Australian company, AquaHydrex, in the pilot project that will lead to hydrogen being injected into Adelaide’s gas system as early as 2018.

Australian Gas Networks operations and engineering manager Ralph Mignone said the aim of the project was to demonstrate a new and less expensive method of hydrogen conversion using electrolysis was viable.

“If this works, it will produce hydrogen more cheaply than the current process because it won’t rely on expensive materials and it won’t be as energy intensive,” Mr Mignone told the 2017 APGA Annual Convention and Exhibition this week.

“This is the first step on the journey of decarbonising our gas supply.

“The project will prove we can put small amounts of hydrogen into our networks now and eventually, by 2050, we should be able to change over completely to hydrogen.

“When you burn hydrogen, all you get is water vapour. There is no carbon. The input to the process is water, and this is split into H2 and O2 using electricity.

“The long-term plan is to use the surplus from renewables for that electricity: for example, from wind-generated electricity at night, when there is less demand for energy.”

Under the pilot project, a small electrolysis plant will be set up at Australian Gas Networks’ Adelaide operations depot, and the small amounts of hydrogen produced will be injected into the local gas network.

Hydrogen has about one-third of the heating capacity of natural gas, so a full conversion to hydrogen would require alterations to gas appliances in future – largely the replacement of burners.

However, injecting small amounts of hydrogen into the system – 5 to 10 per cent – has no perceptible impact and can be done into existing networks.

This means the gas network becomes a storage system for renewable energy.

“Even today, the price of electricity can go negative when there is a lot of wind, and as more renewables are introduced, there will be greater surpluses of energy which may come at times of low demand,” Mr Mignone said.

“Combining a hydrogen production system with additional storage would be an efficient way to use this excess energy.”