Hydrogen facilities could benefit councils in regional NSW, VIC

Evo Energy's hydrogen test facility in Fyshwick, ACT.

Hydrogen energy test facilities under construction in Canberra and regional Victoria that will examine whether natural gas networks can transition to hydrogen may have positive implications for regional councils as they seek to lower their emissions.

These facilities, plus two hydrogen vehicles refueling stations, show local communities’ efforts. Last year, the Council of Australian Governments Energy Council adopted a National Hydrogen Strategy, and South Australia released its own hydrogen action plan.

The first test facility in Canberra’s industrial suburb of Fyshwick is by local electricity and gas utility Evo Energy, in partnership with the Canberra Institute of Technology.

The company services more than 150,000 gas customers in the Australian Capital Territory, and almost 20,000 in NSW’s Queanbeyan-Palerang and Shoalhaven local government areas.

The Victorian project planned for Warrnambool City Council – which has a goal to be carbon neutral by 2040 – received a $2m grant from the Commonwealth Government last year, and will be led by Deakin University.

Evo Energy transports a fossil fuel, a problem it has to solve because of the ACT Government’s net zero emissions by 2045 policy, the company’s Bruce Hansen told a public forum on 17 February.

“Yet as a small network in the scheme of things in Australia we’ve got very little influence over the industry and many other decision-makers,” he said.

“So a couple of years ago we decided the ultimate future of the network that was going to exist was to be a hydrogen network.”

There are three phases to Evo Energy’s plan:

First, to test if the network and safety management system is compatible with hydrogen;

Second, to investigate hydrogen to support coupling the electricity network to the gas network;

Third, to test appliances on hydrogen/natural gas blends.

Phase one has been completed, and the buried network is compatible with hydrogen, Mr Hansen said. Current work practices are also compatible with hydrogen.

There’s been lots of interest in the facility both domestically and as far away as Denmark and South Korea.

Representatives from Rural Funds Management visited last year to learn how hydrogen may fit into low-carbon energy solutions for rural and agricultural operations.

The Warrnambool facility will be built on a 4.5 hectare site that will support fuel cell manufacturing, gas pipelines testing, and the development of safety and protocols, the Council said.

“Green initiatives are also wonderful for the economy,” Warrnambool Mayor, Cr Tony Herbert, said in December 2019.

“It’s given Deakin the largest research facility in the South West and a great boost to launch into uncharted territory … it’s a great opportunity to explore the next wave.”

Deakin University’s Director Energy, Dr Adrian Panow, said research from Warrnambool would focus on how homes and industry could transition from using diesel and natural gas to hydrogen.

“It’s difficult to decarbonise the transport industry without hydrogen,” Dr Panow said.

Although hydrogen-powered passenger vehicles are in their infancy in Australia compared to the northern hemisphere, they’ve been tested by three Victorian councils, and soon will be part of the ACT Government’s fleet.

Two hydrogen refueling stations are under construction in Canberra and Melbourne, and both are due to open before the end of 2020.

By comparison, there are at least 120 in Europe, 40 in the United States, and

100 in Japan, where tourists will be whisked on hydrogen-powered buses at this year’s Tokyo Olympics.

Canberra utility ActewAGL is building one in Fyshwick, around the corner from the hydrogen test facility.

It will be the first commercial site in Australia when it opens in May or June, the company’s Mark Smeaton told the public forum.

The site produces Compressed Natural Gas, and is being modified for 20 Hyundai Nexo hydrogen passenger vehicles the ACT Government will use in a trial.

Toyota’s upgrading its mobile hydrogen refueling station to a permanent one at its former manufacturing plant in Altona, western Melbourne.

That’s on track for completion in December 2020 and will be Victoria’s first.

“To date, we’ve loaned the Mirai FCEV to local councils to trial in real world conditions at Hobsons Bay, Moreland and Wyndham,” Matthew MacLeod, Toyota Australia’s Manager Future Technologies and Mobility, told ALGA News.

“We’ve also loaned [it] to AusNet Services and Mondo and Hydrogen Mobility Australia, now known as Australian Hydrogen Council, for use on-road in a range of conditions for education and research into the efficiency, usage and benefits of hydrogen technology.

“We are always open to interest and any applications for the program, from Government or Industry.”

Image: Evo Energy’s hydrogen test facility, courtesy of Evo Energy.