Hydrogen mania could just be a lot of hot air

HOGSBACK reckons governments may be going overboard in their willingness to embrace hydrogen as the next big energy source for Australia at the expense of coal.
Hydrogen mania could just be a lot of hot air Hydrogen mania could just be a lot of hot air Hydrogen mania could just be a lot of hot air Hydrogen mania could just be a lot of hot air Hydrogen mania could just be a lot of hot air

The process of removing hydrogen from oxygen requires a lot of energy.

Ever since Australia's chief scientist Alan Finkel presented the National Hydrogen Strategy to the Council of Australian Governments Energy Council in Perth in 2019, governments have gone gaga over the gas.

This has also leaked on to the mining and corporate sector, neither of which want to miss the bus when it comes to emissions reduction.

A survey of Queensland Resources Council member company CEOs in February showed resources companies were actively looking at fuels such as hydrogen to reduce emissions and grow their business in a sustainable way.

QRC CEO Ian Macfarlane said more than two-thirds of the CEOs surveyed said they were thinking about hydrogen-related opportunities, and 10% were already committed to projects involving hydrogen.

"In a clear sign hydrogen will play a role in Queensland's response to the global challenge of climate change, 33% of CEOs believe hydrogen will provide an opportunity to reduce emissions in their own business, and a further 33% see hydrogen as an opportunity for growth," he said.

"The resources sector's interest in hydrogen supports [Queensland] premier Annastacia Palaszczuk's decision to appoint a dedicated Hydrogen Industry Development Minister, Mick de Brenni following the state election last year."

Hogsback is no chemical engineer but he knows the process of removing hydrogen from oxygen requires a lot of energy.

Coal can provide this energy through gasification.

Gasification processes convert organic or fossil-based carbonaceous materials into carbon monoxide, hydrogen, and carbon dioxide, according to the Energy Cities group.

Gasification is achieved at temperatures of more than 700C, without combustion, with a controlled amount of oxygen and steam.

The carbon monoxide then reacts with water to form carbon dioxide and more hydrogen via a water-gas shift reaction.

The gas generated via coal gasification is called syngas and the hydrogen can be separated from the other elements using adsorbers or special membranes.

This hydrogen is known as brown or black, depending of the type of coal used: brown (lignite) or black (bituminous) coal.

"It is the result of a highly polluting process since both CO2 and carbon monoxide cannot be reused and are released in the atmosphere," Energy Cities said.

Australia has ample supplies of both brown coal in Victoria and black coal in Queensland and New South Wales.

However, environmentalists don't like this method and call it "brown hydrogen".

They would prefer "green hydrogen" produced using electricity generated from renewables.

Green hydrogen accounts for about 1% of overall hydrogen production.

What these environmentalists and governments keen to cash in on the climate change vote are overlooking is "blue hydrogen", which would be the perfect solution for Australia.

Hydrogen is considered "blue" whenever the emission generated from the steam reforming process are captured and stored underground via industrial carbon capture and storage, so they are not dispersed in the atmosphere.

Hogsback would be in favour of the blue option as the optimum way of including the nation's abundant supplies of coal in the march to controlling emissions.

However, it appears the green hydrogen option is being touted as the way forward by many in government.

If this option prevails, the nation will be left with an unnecessarily expensive way of producing its energy needs.