A future where south-west residents can enjoy the convenience of gas heating and cooking, without CO2 emissions on the side, is one step closer with the Hydrogen Test Bed project now up and running at Deakin's Warrnambool campus.
This five-year $2.3 million industry-led research project, delivered in partnership with Future Fuels CRC, is a key step in establishing south-west Victoria as a hub of hydrogen expertise.
The Hydrogen Test Bed project will see researchers bury currently used gas pipes in purpose-built sandpits, fill them with hydrogen and monitor them over a five-year period.
The research aims to understand the suitability of current Australian gas infrastructure for transporting hydrogen.
Lead researcher Associate Professor Nolene Byrne said this globally-significant research would help to safely introduce hydrogen into existing natural gas networks in Australian homes and businesses.
"This project is looking at all parts of the reticulated gas network, including welds, junctures, regulators and appliances, so that we can safely introduce hydrogen into existing infrastructure" Associate Professor Byrne said.
Research results aim to extend the life of existing Australian infrastructure while investing in clean energy solutions.
Future Fuels CRC chief executive officer David Norman said the collaborative approach to research would enable Australia's energy sector to adapt its infrastructure to net zero emissions fuels.
"Australia can take advantage on the strength of our existing industry and infrastructure to deliver safe, affordable, and reliable zero emissions fuels," he said.
The Hydrogen Test Bed project is located within the proposed Hycel Technology Hub precinct at Deakin's Warrnambool Campus in south-west Victoria.
Deakin University Vice-Chancellor Professor Iain Martin said the installation of the Hydrogen Test Bed facility was a vital step in the establishment of a hydrogen hub of expertise in the region.
"Deakin is responding to the needs of governments and industry to deliver research that unlocks the potential of hydrogen and regional Victoria" Professor Martin said.
The goal, pending funding, is to eventually partner with South West TAFE to become one of the first Australian cities to train students and existing workforces in skills for future hydrogen jobs.
The establishment phase of the Hycel Technology Hub is backed with $2 million in Commonwealth government funding, announced by Education Minister Hon Dan Tehan, in December 2019, to develop a ground-breaking facility for developing hydrogen application technologies at scale.
The future development of the Hycel Technology Hub is subject to funding, with the vision of making Warrnambool the "epicentre" for the national hydrogen market.
$18 million is being sought to build the new facility.
Part of the project hopes to bring one of 10 of the first US-designed hydrogen fuel cell electric Kenworth trucks to Deakin Warrnambool for researchers to begin building a larger hydrogen fuel cell suitable for Australian conditions.
The Warrnambool team will be working to develop a prototype fuel cell in collaboration with Kenworth.
"Australian conditions are tough on heavy trucks and our end goal is to create a fuel cell big enough to power a B-double, which is a significant mass to pull around," said Deakin University's Hycel program manager Adam Fletcher.
"That not only allows for greater loads, but can navigate the hills and topography here in Australia."
A team will be focusing on developing new materials that can operate at higher temperatures to address the issue of overheating in large fuel cells.
They are also collaborating with Warrnambool Bus Lines with the goal to have hydrogen powered buses across the city, which could significantly decrease carbon emissions each year.
In the preliminary phases of Hycel very small volumes of hydrogen will be required.
"Gradually we will need more hydrogen and we would like to think we can use green hydrogen for our projects," Mr Fletcher said.
Hydrogen can be green, blue or brown - depending on the levels of carbon emissions released when it is produced. Hydrogen can be created by running electricity through fresh water, which splits the hydrogen from oxygen.
When produced using 100 per cent renewable electricity, green hydrogen is a zero-emissions fuel.
Blue hydrogen is produced from natural gas, but the carbon is not released into the atmosphere; it is captured and stored.
Fuel cells use hydrogen and oxygen in a chemical process to produce electricity and heat.
The only byproduct is pure, clean water.
Hydrogen can safely power, many things that petrol, diesel and gas can without emitting CO2.
But if there's no offset to the generation of hydrogen using natural gas - that's considered brown hydrogen and leaves a carbon footprint.
The only way that hydrogen produced from natural gas can be considered carbon neutral, is if there's carbon storage; trapping emissions by burying it in the ground or injecting it back into old gas wells.
"What we will be working towards is green hydrogen taking no emissions to produce and produce no carbon when used," Mr Fletcher said.
"We're not focused on hydrogen production, we're focused on how hydrogen can be used in the transport and natural gas space.
"We're looking at heavy transport - so buses, trucks, boats and planes - but firstly trucks, and natural gas, which are the two of the hardest sectors to decarbonise. "
Hycel also has a dedicated community education program. Community members who want to know more about hydrogen and Hycel are invited to get in touch with the Hycel team.
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