Hydrogen can be used for heating and cooking (as a replacement for natural gas), transportation (replacing petrol and diesel), and energy storage (e.g. by converting intermittent renewable energy into hydrogen). The key benefit of using hydrogen is that it is a clean fuel source, emitting only water vapour and heat when burned, which means that its use could make a significant impact on our emissions of CO2 and other gases and particulates to the atmosphere.
With large potential for renewable energy, large fossil fuel resources, and good potential CO2 storage sites, Australia is well placed to become a major producer of hydrogen for domestic use and as an export industry.
While hydrogen is abundant in the universe, it is not freely available as a gas on Earth and must be extracted from water, fossil fuels, or biomass. The primary methods currently available for producing clean hydrogen are:
- Renewable hydrogen, where renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power are used to provide the electricity required to split hydrogen from water through a process known as electrolysis;
- CCS hydrogen, where hydrogen is produced through a thermochemical reaction from a fossil fuel feedstock such as coal (coal gasification) or natural gas (steam methane reforming) and water. The CO2 emissions created as a by‑product are captured and stored in deep geological formations.
Demonstration and implementation
Hydrogen is already being used for electricity production and in vehicles in various parts of the world. While large scale implementation of hydrogen production is not yet available in Australia, there are several pilot, demonstration and small scale projects in various stages of operation, as shown in the map below from CSIRO’s National Hydrogen Roadmap. A number of jurisdictions in Australia are also looking at ways to add up to 10 per cent hydrogen into the municipal gas distribution network.
Australia’s hydrogen production potential
In 2019, Geoscience Australia was engaged by the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science to complete a national-scale spatial analysis of Australia’s hydrogen production potential, to aid in the development of Australia’s National Hydrogen Strategy (released November 2019).
The study concluded that:
- Australia has vast physical resources that could support a large-scale hydrogen industry.
- Both large-scale renewable and CCS hydrogen can be supported.
- Coastal areas are favourable for hydrogen production from electrolysis due to an unlimited supply of desalinated water and existing infrastructure (e.g. electricity, ports).
Several challenges were identified for future hydrogen production in Australia including: the availability of water in the inland regions; requirements for new infrastructure to connect to prospective regions; and competition for land and resources.
Hydrogen production potential was estimated based on factors such as renewable energy potential (e.g. solar, wind, hydro), infrastructure (e.g. pipelines, electricity grid, ports), natural resources (e.g. coal, water, CO2 storage potential), and land use (e.g. agricultural land, exclusion areas such as areas of cultural significance, national parks, residential areas). These factors were considered in various combinations in a series of scenarios to produce heat maps, which identify the areas with highest hydrogen production potential. The five scenarios and resulting heat maps are presented below, while the data and methodology used for this analysis are described in more detail in the full report, “Prospective hydrogen production regions of Australia” (high-resolution maps and datasets are also available).
Scenario 1: Renewable wind, solar and hydropower resource potential, without infrastructure constraints. This scenario assumes that hydrogen is produced by electrolysis at the coast (i.e. not constrained by water availability) using renewable energy from anywhere in the country, reflecting Australia’s renewable resources potential.
Scenario 2: Renewable hydrogen – coastal production and constrained by existing infrastructure. This scenario requires that renewable energy sources for hydrogen production are located close to a connected grid, which can power hydrocarbon production at the coast. Water availability is not a constraint if hydrogen production occurs at the coast.
Scenario 3: Renewable hydrogen – coastal or inland generation, hydrogen transported via pipeline, and constrained by existing infrastructure. This scenario assumes that hydrogen production can occur inland as well as on the coast. Hydrogen produced inland and transported via pipeline to the coast for export has dependencies on current infrastructure, such as gas pipeline easements. Inland water availability is an important consideration for this scenario.
Scenarios 4 and 5: CCS hydrogen. The two scenarios are the same except in regards to the maturity of available CO2 storage sites: advanced development (2030 timeframe); and greenfield areas (longer term - 2050 timeframe, with more storage sites available). These scenarios assume that hydrogen production takes place near natural gas or coal sources and within an economically viable distance to a suitable site for storage of the CO2 that is a by-product of hydrogen production from fossil fuels. Availability of water is considered essential.
Transportation and storage
Like natural gas or LNG, hydrogen can be transported by pipeline, truck or ship in compressed, liquefied form or as a chemical compound, such as ammonia or methylcyclohexane. It can be stored in tanks or underground, for example, in salt caverns or depleted gas reservoirs, to be available for use as required (this is common practice for natural gas storage). Further work is required to identify and characterise areas in Australia, such as salt deposits, where hydrogen could be stored for future use.
AusH2 – Australia’ Hydrogen Opportunities Tool
AusH2 hosts Hydrogen Mapper, a web based tool that allows users to produce their own versions of the scenarios described above to support a range of applications and use cases. Through interactive interrogation and analysis, the weighting of the input parameters for each scenario can be toggled to derive alternate hydrogen prospectivity heat maps.
NB: This tool works best in Chrome or FireFox.
Australia’s National Hydrogen Strategy. COAG Energy Council. Released November 2019.
Feitz, A., Tenthorey, E., Coghlan, R. 2019. Prospective hydrogen production regions of Australia. GA Record 2019/15, 64 pp. eCAT #130930. (High resolution map images are also available).
COAG National Hydrogen Strategy issues papers (July 2019)
Hydrogen for Australia’s future: A briefing paper for the COAG Energy Council prepared by the Hydrogen Strategy Group (August 2018)
Bruce, S., Temminghoff, M., Hayward, J., Schmidt, E., Munnings, C., Palfreyman, D., Hartley, P. 2018. National Hydrogen Roadmap. CSIRO, Australia.
Australia’s Energy and Resources Assessment 2019
AusH2 - Australia’ Hydrogen Opportunities Tool