He says large-scale industrial applications—like the Yuri Project—are what will really drive demand. “A company like Yara will need enormous amounts of green hydrogen,” he says.
Another industry with a keen interest in green hydrogen is freight transport. In Australia, diesel-fueled trucks take a major cut out of the carbon budget. But electric trucks aren’t a viable solution, either on the long-haul routes to get goods to and from remote areas or when shifting heavy loads, such as around mines. “If we can start decarbonizing that through hydrogen, that’s a great application,” says Steven Percy, a senior research fellow in the Victorian Hydrogen Hub at Swinburne University in Melbourne. Hydrogen fuel cell electric trucks will soon be rumbling around the Sun Metals zinc refinery near Townsville in Queensland in Australia’s northeast—fueled by green hydrogen generated by a solar farm and electrolyzer operation next door. A 40-ton, 500-horsepower, hydrogen-powered truck was also unveiled at the European Conference on Energy Transition in Geneva last year.
But perhaps hydrogen’s greatest potential lies in its ability to store energy for rainy days. While fossil fuels are stores of energy from prehistoric sunlight, hydrogen can be used to store the solar energy of the previous 12 hours. “You need green hydrogen to continue to increase the amount of renewable power,” says Mowill. Once an electricity grid gets to a critical mass of renewable inputs from sources such as wind and solar, something has to step in to stabilize and smooth out those peaks and troughs of supply and demand. “You can’t solve that with batteries; it’s at a scale that wouldn’t be practical,” Mowill says. “Hydrogen is a very good way of balancing out this.”
And unlike batteries, hydrogen can be efficiently transported. It can be compressed into liquid hydrogen, which does require some energy, or it can be converted into ammonia, which is already transported around the world, then “cracked” back into hydrogen and nitrogen at its destination.
Countries like Japan and South Korea, which are home to energy-intensive industries (such as steel and the manufacturing of cars and ships) but lack the renewable resources to power them sustainably, are eager to import hydrogen from countries with an excess of renewable energy, such as Australia.
“The idea is basically that you produce those hydrogen molecules or hydrogen direct derivatives in countries with abundant renewable resources,” says Carlos Trench, head of hydrogen projects at Engie Australia & New Zealand. “Then you transport the molecules—whether it’s ammonia or any other derivative—and then you reconvert that molecule into green power at the destination where a direct development of renewables is not feasible.”
Japan has already declared its intention to be a world leader in the hydrogen economy as part of its carbon-neutrality strategy. South Korea is hoping hydrogen will supply around one-third of its energy by 2050.
But Percy stresses that despite all the excitement, green hydrogen is still currently a bit player in the global decarbonization game. “It’s really very small-scale right now,” he says. But it is ramping up.