According to Climate Analytics for the Australian Conservation Foundation, Australia’s carbon footprint from fossil fuel emissions and fuel exports is equivalent to the total emissions of Russia, placing fifth in the rankings of the biggest CO2 emitters globally. This places Australia on par with other developed nations on the magnitude of its climate commitment and vested responsibility for global mitigation efforts.
Hydrogen has long been recognised for its potential as a clean alternative to fossil fuels and its significant role in creating a sustainable future. Its versatility and flexibility bring forth a myriad of possible uses, from decarbonising transport—powering trucks, planes and ships—to heating homes, strengthening grid stability, and supporting heavy industries like steel and cement.
Unsurprisingly, the Australia government has foreseen the potential of hydrogen as a concrete step in the pathway towards net zero targets. The development of hydrogen resources would bolster the country’s energy security, aid in job creation, and eventually build an export industry valued in the billions.
As a mark of commitment to growing its hydrogen industry, Australia developed the National Hydrogen Strategy. This strategy outlines its vision for a clean, innovative, safe and competitive hydrogen economy which would benefit all Australians and positions its hydrogen industry as a major global player by 2030.
Welcoming the initiative by the government, Michael Bielinski, Managing Director of Siemens Energy Australasia, notes that the National Hydrogen Strategy is a quantum leap in the right direction.
“Australia’s commitment to green the energy industry sends a strong signal to key stakeholders in the private sector that an energy transition is well underway,” asserts Mr Bielinksi.
“This will be instrumental in driving institutional support and investment into hydrogen technology, which will play a crucial role in lowering the overall cost of green energy adoption,” he explains, detailing its significance.
Across Australia, hundreds of millions of dollars have been promised to explore how hydrogen’s integration in the country’s energy mix can exert downward pressure on both fuel prices and emission levels. Moreover, it sets a foundation for a highly desirable field of energy expertise as a competitive export industry.
The case for hydrogen in the energy sector
Hydrogen exists as the most common element in the universe and unlike fossil fuels, is available in abundance. Classified as a clean energy source, its potential is in its infinite applications. Hydrocarbon synthesis opens a world for hydrogen to be converted into sustainable electrofuels or e-fuels, such as e-Methanol, e-Methane, e-Jet Fuel, used in the form of direct fuel for mobility or as a feedstock for various industries.
“We see the demand for hydrogen to only increase further as global energy demand rises. There’s no doubt that green hydrogen will serve as the commercial and primary fuel to power our world in the future,” Mr Bielinski says.
Not all types of hydrogen are made equal
The method of hydrogen production greatly determines how climate-friendly the end product is. Hydrogen produced from fossil fuels releasing emissions such as CO2, may be referred to as ‘grey’ or ‘brown’ hydrogen. If the emitted carbon dioxide is captured, stored (carbon capture storage) and re-used, it is often called ‘blue’ hydrogen.
On the other hand, the cleanest and most sustainable type of hydrogen, green hydrogen, is produced via electrolysis of water with electrical energy from renewable sources, resulting in a product that is completely free of CO2 emissions from the beginning.
According to the Hydrogen Council, green hydrogen is projected to provide almost a fifth of total power consumed globally by 2050, and will help the world avoid six billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year—roughly the annual equivalent of the United States’ emissions.
On its way to the top
As hydrogen moves to take its place amongst global fuels, numerous blips still waylay its ascent.
Firstly, there is the issue of storage. Electric vehicles which run on hydrogen require the fuel cells to be stored on board and be pressurised or liquefied to have an appropriate driving range. It is also particularly sensitive to fuel purity. When used as part of a fuel cell, hydrogen requires an ultra-high level of purity of up to 99.999 per cent.
Developing the required infrastructure also necessitates a longer-term horizon. Fortunately, Australia already has well-established network of natural gas pipelines, many of them already hydrogen-compatible and leaving ample time to retrofit the remainder to operate as a hydrogen facility.
There are also the numerous HSE concerns surrounding hydrogen. Hydrogen is extremely flammable and explosive when in the presence of air such that a hydrogen leak could result in an explosion when sparked or ignited. This makes hydrogen challenging to use in enclosed areas such as underground tunnels or parking.
Additionally, hydrogen flames are almost invisible to the naked eye and are odourless. To detect hydrogen leaks, leak detection systems are usually installed and deployed to areas where leakage could occur. The good news is that Australia is well-equipped to support the safe transport of hydrogen, boasting robust regimes for public infrastructural safety and an exemplary hydrogen safety record from ammonia production to petrochemical refineries to metals processing to chemical, food, and glass manufacture.
And finally, one of the most significant barriers to overcome would be the cost of hydrogen. Since 2015, green hydrogen production costs have fallen significantly by 40 per cent and are expected to fall another 40 per cent through 2025. Including the investments required to equip sites to produce hydrogen by electrolysis, today’s renewable hydrogen can be produced at the cost of $6 to $9 per kilogram. The cost of producing hydrogen from renewables will need to fall to between $2 and $2.50 per kilogram by 2030 to make green hydrogen a viable alternative to conventional fuels.
The next step towards a hydrogen economy
In order for the green hydrogen economy to make headway, the public and private sector across the world will need to collaborate closely and form deep partnerships, foster knowledge sharing and accelerate hydrogen research.
Today, Australia has already partnered with other countries to attract investment, build supply chains and advance research and development (R&D). The country is investing new hydrogen initiatives with Germany to explore hydrogen supply chain possibilities, working with Singapore and the United Kingdom to accelerate R&D into low emissions technologies, and promoting best safety practices as a member of the US Center for Hydrogen Safety.
To compete with attractively-priced fossil fuels and further the adoption of green hydrogen, technological advancements and innovations in green hydrogen production will play a crucial role in driving down the cost of green hydrogen.
As one of the world’s leading technology companies and a driver of energy transition, Siemens Energy has developed its Silyzer solution—an innovative electrolysis system based on proton exchange membrane (PEM) technology to produce green hydrogen of the highest quality. This process of electrolysis splits water into hydrogen and oxygen without harmful byproducts, enabling the sustainable production of hydrogen in large volumes.
The modular design of the Silyzer 300 also makes unique use of scaling effects to minimise investment costs for large-scale industrial electrolysis plants, which will result in lower hydrogen production costs thanks to high plant efficiency and availability.
“Hydrogen holds exciting potential for the future of energy,” Mr Bielinski says.
“We are confident that through Siemens Energy’s expertise and a holistic portfolio of sustainable energy solutions, we can pave the way for Australia to achieve its goal of net-zero emissions and become a leading global hydrogen player.”
Visit Siemens Energy for more information.