Two cars powered by hydrogen derived from ammonia are being tested thanks to a breakthrough that researchers say could turn Australia into a renewable energy superpower.
CSIRO principal research scientist Michael Dolan said “We started out with what we thought was a good idea, it is exciting to see it on the cusp of commercial deployment,” he said. For the past decade, researchers have worked on producing ultra-high purity hydrogen using a unique membrane technology. The membrane breakthrough will allow hydrogen to be safely transported and used as a mass production energy source.
“We are certainly the first to demonstrate the production of very clean hydrogen from ammonia,” Dr Dolan said. “Today is the very first time in the world that hydrogen cars have been fuelled with a fuel derived from ammonia; carbon-free fuel.” Program leader David Harris said Australia has a huge source of renewable energy — sunlight and wind — that can be utilised to produce hydrogen. But the highly flammable element is difficult to ship long distances because of its low density. CSIRO researchers have found a way to turn Australian-made hydrogen into ammonia, meaning it could be shipped safely to the mass market of Asia. It is converted back into hydrogen using their membrane and then pumped into hydrogen-powered cars. There are tens of thousands of these cars across Japan, South Korea and Singapore.
“The key here is we can transport the hydrogen from the place where it is produced from renewable energy and we can ship that form of ammonia anywhere in the world,” Dr Harris said. Independent industry association Hydrogen Mobility Australia CEO, Claire Johnson said the use of hydrogen as a transport fuel is being recognised globally as a solution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the world’s reliance on fossil fuels. “Hydrogen powered vehicles, including buses, trucks, trains, forklifts as well as passenger cars are being manufactured by leading automotive companies and deployed worldwide as part of their efforts to decarbonise the transport sector,” she said. Both Toyota and Hyundai have invested millions of dollars into hydrogenpowered cars. Hyundai spokesman Scott Nargar said the main advantage of hydrogen over electric cars was they could be filled up in three minutes like a normal car and had a range of up to 800 kilometres. “So they are just like driving a normal car but there will be zero emissions,” he said. “Working in and out of South Korea quite regularly, I know Hyundai has a massive contract to provide hydrogen buses to the Korean Government.
Toyota spokesman Matthew Macleod said the breakthrough was exciting because it addressed one of the key challenges with hydrogen. “It is a game-changer,” he said. Ammonia already has established routes for transportation and to transport at relatively normal temperatures. “When it gets to where it is going they can actually pull the hydrogen out. The CSIRO team has already received expressions of interest from Japan, South Korea and Europe, with industry players looking at taking up supplies initially to fuel commercial vehicles like buses, taxis, trucks and trains. A million hydrogenpowered cars are expected to hit the streets by 2025. It is anticipated that there will be price parity with petrol and diesel cars within a decade. The cost for the fuel is expected to be around $15 a kilogram, with an average car holding five kilos of pure hydrogen in a tank. But the efficiency of the car is twice that of current gasoline cars, so you can actually drive twice as far on a tank. This year Australia is the world’s biggest natural gas exporter. Hydrogen could be in the same position in the next couple of decades.