Is hydrogen getting ready to boom?
With electric power grabbing most of the attention, it is easy to forget hydrogen as a promising petrol replacement.
But even as Australian EV development continues to steal headlines, hydrogen has been bubbling away in the background. Traditionally seen by many experts as less viable than electricity, hydrogen could have a substantial impact on the wider Australian economy.
“This is a broad opportunity that touches on a range of sectors,” said Daniel Roberts, who leads CSIRO’s hydrogen research programme.
Australia has the potential to become a regional leader in hydrogen manufacturing and its supply to countries like Japan and Korea, where the gas is central to their future, fuels policy.
The vast returns available from exporting this abundant fuel source are bound to have economic planners licking their lips at the thought of the potential trade it could bring the country. This in turn could influence federal and state governments’ approach to promoting the use of hydrogen cells in vehicles.
“There’s this issue around fuel security. There’s a whole lot of things that will be set off in terms of cost and other impacts as we decouple our transport from imported oil,” said Roberts.
“We now have key technology components, in particular fuel cells and electrolysers, and the cost of using hydrogen has been coming down to such a level that it’s getting to parity with some of the systems that it is going to replace.”
There’s a real competition between hydrogen and batteries as a source for powering sustainable vehicles, according to Ken Baldwin, professor of physics at the Australian National University.
“A lot of car companies are hedging their bets and looking at both technologies, and it will be interesting to see if competition from one drives down the price of the other backwards and forwards until we have a situation whereby it makes these vehicles even cheaper than they look like becoming,” Baldwin said.
California offers a good example of where a sizeable uptake of fuel cell vehicles has been driving down costs, said Roberts.
“I don’t think adding hydrogen to the mobility mix is a pipe dream, we are seeing it play out in places like California. The cost is coming down to the point that it is similar to what it costs to fuel your petrol car.
“That sort of parity is becoming clear, but in Australia it’s more about infrastructure and putting in place filling station networks that allow people to use their cars how they want. It’s playing out in the rest of the world, and if we put our ducks in a row here, it will play out in Australia,” Roberts added.