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Hydrogen scales up

The potential for the widespread use of hydrogen as a zero-emission fuel is gaining traction in Asia

Governments and investors in Japan, China, South Korea and Australia are increasingly turning to hydrogen as a long-term alternative to fossil fuels, suited to a decarbonised world.

Hydrogen's range of potential applications include diverse forms of energy use from power generation to transport, heating and industrial processes. According to the Hydrogen Council, the international hydrogen market could be worth $2.5 trillion by 2050, meeting 18% of total global final energy demand, provide 30m jobs globally and reduce CO2 by 6 gigatonnes per year.

The International Energy Agency has identified hydrogen as instrumental in diversifying the global energy mix and reducing emissions, while Shell is predicting that hydrogen will be a major energy carrier from 2040. By the end of the 21st century, it's envisaged that hydrogen could supply a quarter of all transport energy demand, according to KPMG advisory service.

Achieving the Hydrogen Council's target will require investments of up to $25bn annually through 2030 to double hydrogen production, provide distribution infrastructure, and produce equipment such as fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV), trains, heating equipment and components at decreasing costs.

About 20 countries—led by Japan, South Korea, Germany, China and the US state of California—are initiating the market scale-up through public-private partnerships and targeted incentives.

In Asia, China is targeting the installation of 1,000 hydrogen refuelling stations (HRS) by 2030 serving over 1m FCEVs. By 2025, it also expects to have transformed the city of Wuhan into the country's leading hydrogen hub.

Japan expects to have over 900 HRS operating by 2030 and South Korea around 310 by 2022. In Australia, investors backed by government funding are planning new utility-scale renewable projects to produce hydrogen for export to Asia.

"Making the two-degree scenario a reality will require hydrogen solutions across the whole energy system," the global chief-executive-led Hydrogen Council noted in its November 2017 report Hydrogen Scaling Up. This sets out a pathway to achieve significant hydrogen penetration by mid-century, including requirements for hydrogen infrastructure and manufacturing capacity, as well as the steps needed to achieve competitive costs and mass market acceptance.

Fuel for transport

Hydrogen has long been considered a pariah as a transport fuel following the May 1937 Hindenburg passenger airship disaster. But technological advances mean it can now be produced, transported and used for power generation, heating, industrial processes and transport in a stable, sustainable and cost-competitive way.

On the production side, the falling cost and widespread deployment of utility-scale wind and solar photovoltaics, provide the opportunity to generate hydrogen with zero emissions. Norway and Australia are leading the field, with both looking to produce hydrogen from renewable power on a scale for export in large volumes.

Japan expects to have over 900 hydrogen refuelling stations operating by 2030

Target markets are countries which face obstacles in decarbonising their heat and power processes. Some lack the space to install renewable generation capacity on their own. Others, with off-grid markets, rely on imported diesel or heavy fuel oil to generate electricity.

The potential for large-scale renewable-to-hydrogen production is supported by advances in liquefied natural gas transport, which has proven that gas can be shipped safely in large quantities around the globe. Carrier compounds such as methanol, formic acid and ammonia enable hydrogen to be transported in a stable cryogenic liquid state, albeit at even colder temperatures than liquefied natural gas.

At present, ammonia is considered the most promising hydrogen carrier due to its relatively low cost, high energy density and ease of liquefaction. In 2017, Japanese researchers also discovered a new method of producing hydrogen from ammonia at room temperature, giving a significant boost to hydrogen's long-term potential.

On the consumption side, technological advances in fuel cells and other combustion technologies mean hydrogen can be used in fuel cell batteries for large and small-scale power generation, heating and transport. The overarching appeal of hydrogen is that, when burnt in pure oxygen, its only by-product is water.

Rising demand in Asia

In Asia, Japan is leading the field in policy, regulatory and infrastructure investments to support the transition to a fully-fledged hydrogen-based society. The aim is to improve air quality, significantly cut emissions from generation and transport, reduce reliance on imported fossil fuels and improve emergency response capabilities.

As outlined in its Strategic Roadmap for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells, Japan's Ministry of Energy, Trade and Industry (METI) is coordinating a long-term strategy to accelerate the uptake of FCEVs, fuel cell buses and hydrogen-fired power generation facilities, both small and large-scale. METI expects Japan's annual consumption of hydrogen will grow from 4,000 tonnes in 2020 to 300,000 tonnes by 2030 and 5-10m tonnes by 2050.

Since 2013, Japan has been developing a network of commercial-purpose hydrogen refuelling stations to support FCEV uptake through JHyM Japan H2 Mobility, an alliance of 16 utilities and car makers set up to coordinate and expand the network.

The roll-out will support Japan's plan to have over 40,000 FCEVs on the road by 2020, when Tokyo will host the Summer Olympics and Paralympics, rising to 200,000 by 2025 and 800,000 by 2030. At least 1,200 fuel cell buses are also expected to be on the roads by 2030.

In terms of pump pricing, METI expects FCEV owners will be able to buy imported hydrogen for approximately Y30 ($23) per normal cubic metre by 2030—equal to around $3 a gallon of petrol-falling to Y20/normal cm by 2050. At present, pump prices for imported hydrogen in Japan are tracking around Y100/normal cm.

In power generation, Japan is looking at switching from coal and imported LNG to hydrogen for its gas-fired power plants and coal gasification stations, using liquid import shipments from Brunei and Australia. To this end, Japanese companies such as Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Iwatani, J-POWER and Marubeni are investing in hydrogen production projects in Australia and Brunei.

In Australia, Japanese groups are partnering with AGL Energy and Shell to establish a supply chain to import liquefied hydrogen to Japan through a $375m Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain (HESC) project. This will gasify brown coal to extract hydrogen with carbon capture and storage (CCS). The coal-to-liquids project is targeting commercial start-up by 2030.

In Brunei, the Advanced Hydrogen Energy Chain for Technology Development (AHEAD) project is being developed by Japanese companies Mitsubishi, Nippon Yusen, Chiyoda and Mitsui, with Brunei's Sungai Liang Industrial Park to produce hydrogen from gas from Brunei LNG.

Australian production potential

The investment is one of many taking place in Australia, which is also waking up to its vast geographic potential to supply hydrogen produced from renewable energy sources.

The existence of vast swathes of available land for renewable facilities, plentiful solar and wind resources, and high investment in peak renewable energy production means Australia has considerable scope to develop hydrogen as an export product.

The overarching appeal of hydrogen is that, when burnt in pure oxygen, its only by-product is water

In South Australia, French renewable developer Neoen recently announced plans to build a hydrogen super-hub at Crystal Brook to export renewable hydrogen to Asia. The 50-megawatt hydrogen electrolyser would be powered by a 300MW wind and solar farm and 400 megawatt hours of battery storage, and could produce up to 20,000kg (20 tonnes) of hydrogen a day.

Neoen and Megawatt Capital are already partnering with Siemens and Hyundai to build a small 1.25MW hydrogen electrolyser, which converts electricity to hydrogen, in the Australian Capital Territory.

Hydrogen Utility (H2U) and Germany's Thyssenkrupp are also planning to build a renewable-hydrogen electrolyser plant at Port Lincoln in South Australia with a 5MW hydrogen fuel cell and a 10MW hydrogen-fired gas turbine fuelled by wind and solar.

In Western Australia, the Asian Renewable Energy Hub project is considering using part of its planned utility-scale wind and solar project in the Pilbara region to split water into hydrogen and oxygen using electrolysis. Backed by CWP Energy Asia, Intercontinental Energy and Vestas, the $15bn project is targeting a final investment decision by 2021 and is also anticipating exporting power to Southeast Asia through a subsea cable.

In recognition of Australia's potential to become a world leader in hydrogen exports, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) is investing $10m into hydrogen fuel research through its Future Science Platforms.

As Karl Rodrigues, CSIRO's Deputy Director for Energy, put it "we could literally bottle our sunshine through electrolysis and sell it".

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