21 C
Byron Shire
September 24, 2021

Is hydrogen part of a sustainable energy future?

Latest News

Fundraising for koala signs for Bangalow

As the koala mating season has started, Bangalow Koalas has set up fundraising to create incorporate more koala road signs. Bangalow...

Other News

NSW Regional Housing Taskforce to recommend holiday rental regulation changes

Regional Housing Taskforce Chair Garry Fielding says recommendations around short-term holiday letting regulations will feature in his report to planning minister Rob Stokes later this month.

A matter of choice

I have chosen to receive a vaccination. Others have chosen not to. Unless we are living in some totalitarian state, that...

Champion a cause

Delighted to read Dan Reade’s letter (September 1) calling for everyone to take a new cause to champion. I...

Byron Bay Hempire

S Haslam Inside the gut are about 100 trillion live microorganisms that vitally contribute to a strong immune system. These...

Controversial Iron Gates development open for comment on 24 September

The community has 30 days to comment on the latest amended DA for the controversial Iron Gates development at Evans Head before it goes before the Northern Rivers Planning Panel once again.

Are developers threatening court action over controversial Iron Gates development?

Using the Land and Environment Court (L&EC) to exclude effective public dialogue on development appears to, once again, be being used to drive forward development in the Northern Rivers.

Hydrogen energy in action. Photo Pixabay.

David Lowe

There’s a lot to like about hydrogen. For starters, it’s abundant. Hydrogen can store excess renewable power. When liquified, it’s more energy intense than fossil alternatives. In a fuel cell, it can generate electricity. When it’s burned, the only by-product is water.

But there are a lot of buts when it comes to hydrogen. Although it’s pretty much everywhere, hydrogen has to be extracted from its chemical bonds with other things to be useful to humans, and that takes a lot of energy.

Old-fashioned politicians and companies like hydrogen because it can be made from fossil fuels, like natural gas, which means it fits into business models that revolve around digging stuff up and selling it. But this will do life on Earth no good at all.

Nuclear spruikers like hydrogen because it can be extracted using nuclear energy.

Green advocates like hydrogen because it can be extracted from pure water using renewable energy.

For industries like heavy shipping, aviation, steel production, and power generation hydrogen has been presented as a sustainable fuel alternative, at least until better types of batteries come along.

Toyota Mirai fuel cell vehicle, ready to be fuelled with CSIRO-produced hydrogen – CSIRO

Cooling the planet?

In 2017, the Hydrogen Council coalition (including massive players like Toyota, Hyundai, and Anglo-American) told COP23 in Bonn that hydrogen had the potential to contribute 20 per cent of the abatement needed to limit global warming to 20C, while also creating 30 million jobs and US $2.5 trillion worth of business by 2050.

This federal coalition government predicted a tenfold increase in the production of hydrogen in the next thirty years.

A major problem with this ‘vision’ is that in the absence of a carbon price (or politicians and regulators with functional backbones), the cheapest forms of hydrogen production are likely to win out, and right now these are not the green versions.

Colourful names for a colourless gas

Presently, 95 per cent of the world’s hydrogen production is of the ‘brown’ and ‘grey’ type. ‘Brown’ refers to fossil fuels as the source ingredient – coal or methane gas, derived via natural pressure or fracking – which is then treated with steam to break apart the molecular bonds of the hydrocarbons.

In these processes a large quantity of carbon dioxide is generated. If this is allowed to escape and pollute the atmosphere (what usually happens), the process is called ‘grey’. If the emissions are captured, the resulting hydrogen is tagged as ‘blue’.

By contrast, ‘green’ hydrogen uses electricity to break apart the hydrogen from the oxygen in water (H2O) in a process called water electrolysis. There have also been successful experiments making biological hydrogen with algae bioreactors (another green process), and by using concentrated solar thermal energy.



While Tesla boss Elon Musk has been dismissive of hydrogen fuel cells, betting everything on batteries, other auto-manufacturers like Toyota, Honda, and General Motors are continuing to experiment with hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles. California is planning to build 200 hydrogen fuel stations by 2025, and in Germany there will soon be hydrogen-powered trains.

What sort of hydrogen we have in the future will depend a lot on the price of renewable energy, which is continuing to plummet.

Here in Australia, there are some very promising developments, including CSIRO research that has made it possible for hydrogen to be transported in the form of liquid ammonia, using existing infrastructure, then reconverted back to hydrogen at the point of use using a membrane.

The recently announced Eyre Peninsula Gateway Project seeks to make 10,000 tonnes of green hydrogen a year to help power Europe, as well as 40,000 tonnes of ammonia (which is widely used in agriculture and other industries).

Even bigger renewable-energy projects are in the wings, such as the Yara Pilbara project and the Asian Renewable Hub, which is expected to deliver green hydrogen by 2027.

Research suggests that hydrogen that can be used where it’s made is of particular benefit, without the engineering challenges and costs associated with moving the gas around, or transforming it.

Meanwhile Energy minister Angus Taylor continues to talk about mixing hydrogen with fossil-fuel gases in existing pipelines, and extending the life of dead-end fossil-fuel investments by using coal to make brown hydrogen for export. Business as usual, in other words.

This approach needs to be called out. Hydrogen has a lot more potential than that.

Support The Echo

Keeping the community together and the community voice loud and clear is what The Echo is about. More than ever we need your help to keep this voice alive and thriving in the community.

Like all businesses we are struggling to keep food on the table of all our local and hard working journalists, artists, sales, delivery and drudges who keep the news coming out to you both in the newspaper and online. If you can spare a few dollars a week – or maybe more – we would appreciate all the support you are able to give to keep the voice of independent, local journalism alive.


  1. If one really wants to address the global warming problem, one advocates immediate cessation of building of new cars. And planes, caravans, and lots of other things…

  2. The above should have begun at least 20 years ago. Had that happened we would not be stuck
    with ‘the marketeering-mouth who thinks he rules the world.’


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Nuclear Submarines – just a foot in the door

In the next few months we will hear a lot about how superior nuclear-powered submarines are. Vice Admiral Mike Noonan is even claiming superior stealth characteristics – which is simply not true. Yes, they tend to be faster. This is great if you want to go thousands of kilometres in a matter of days. But they are also much more expensive.

Compost back on Lismore’s gardening menu

Lismore City Council says that their BIOCycle Compost is again on sale from the Lismore Recycling & Recovery Centre and Nimbin Transfer Station, after a two-year break.

Tony’s reflections as king of the Macadamia Castle

Looking back on 14 years at the Macadamia Castle, Tony Gilding says the important things to him were the conservation of the animals and the development of staff.

Getting annoyed with NSW Farmers naming ‘rights’

The Annoying Vegan has become more annoyed today with what they see as the NSW Farmers getting on their high horse about the use of the words ‘meat’ and ‘milk’.