The Future Of

Green Hydrogen

Episode Summary

Is green hydrogen the key to a carbon-free energy future?

Episode Notes

Is green hydrogen the key to a carbon-free energy future?

In this episode, Jessica is joined by Professor Craig Buckley from Curtin University’s Hydrogen Storage Research Group to discuss the future of green hydrogen and how he and his team are making it a viable energy solution. 

  • The colours of hydrogen [01:08]
  • Using Raman scattering to detect hydrogen [03:38]
  • Is green hydrogen a feasible energy solution? [10:33]
  • Safety of hydrogen compared to fossil fuels [13:24]
  • Using hydrogen to fuel transport vehicles [20:01]

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Connect with our guests

Professor Craig Buckley,John Curtin Distinguished Professor, School of Electrical Engineering, Computing and Mathematicals Sciences. 

Professor Buckley is Head of the Hydrogen Storage Research Group at Curtin University and is recognised internationally for his work on hydrogen storage materials. 

He is the Australian Executive Committee member on the International Energy Agency (IEA) Hydrogen Technology Collaboration Program (TCP) and is an Australian expert on the IEA Hydrogen TCP Task 40 Hydrogen Energy Storage and Conversion.

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Episode Transcription

Jessica Morrison (00:00):

This is The Future Of, where experts share their vision of the future and how their work is helping shape it for the better. I'm Jessica Morrison. In the race to reduce emissions, green hydrogen is gaining popularity around the world as a carbon-free energy source. Produced using renewable energy, green hydrogen has as a potential to fuel vehicles, heat homes, and power carbon intensive industries. And now thanks to advances in technology and decreased production costs, green hydrogen is making a way into the future energy strategies of nations around the globe. But as promising as it sounds, green hydrogen does have its critics with some experts questioning its safety and the efficiency of its supply chain.

Jessica Morrison (00:44):

In this episode, I was joined by professor Craig Buckley from Curtin University in late 2021 to discuss the future of green hydrogen and how he and his team are making it a viable energy solution. If you'd like to find out more about this research, you can visit the links provided in the show notes. All right, so there are different types of hydrogen, brown, grey, blue, and green. What do these colours mean, and how do they differ, Craig?

Professor Craig Buckley (01:08):

It does depend on which website you look at. There's a number of different colours out there at the moment, but the one I've looked at narrows it down to about eight different colours. So, in terms of brown hydrogen, you're looking at pretty much gasification of coal to turn it into hydrogen, but you also get CO2 and that's emitted into the atmosphere. And then for grey hydrogen, you're actually doing steam reformation of methane, which is natural gas. You also get CO2 emitted, which goes into the atmosphere. For blue hydrogen, it's also steam reformation of methane, but we capture the CO2 or that's a plan anyway to capture the CO2. And therefore, no CO2 is emitted. For green hydrogen, you're looking at renewable hydrogen pretty much. So, that's hydrogen... You produce hydrogen used in electrolysis. So, what happens is you use electricity to split water. You get hydrogen and oxygen. And basically with green hydrogen it comes from renewable sources. So, from PV or the wind, geothermal, whatever, but yeah, renewable sources.

Professor Craig Buckley (02:16):

But there is some other colours. There's turquoise hydrogen as well. Turquoise looks at pyrolysis of methane, which is basically CH4, four hydro molecules and one carbon atom. And so, basically you get the pyrolysis of that, which means you heat it up to a very high temperature, and you only produce carbon and hydrogen, no CO2 is produced, but that's very expensive to get it to those high temperatures. So there's a lot of work going on to bring that down. There's also yellow hydrogen, which looks at electrolysis again to split water to get hydrogen. But then the electricity comes from a mixture of renewable and basically a fossil fuel grid source of electricity. And then you've got pink hydrogen, which is actually electrolysis, again, but that's from electricity from nuclear energy. And then finally, you've got white hydrogen. Some people call it gold. Basically, that's hydrogen that just comes from the ground naturally. And until a few years ago, they didn't think that was really happening. But the last few years they've realised it is. And it turns out that about 23 million tonnes a year of hydrogen just comes from the ground naturally across the planet. So, it's a pretty big source of hydrogen. And so, if we can capture that, that's a good source of just completely renewable hydrogen. Basically, that 23 million tonnes is quite a lot.

Jessica Morrison (03:38):

It is. Are you doing any preliminary work in understanding how that could be captured given it is such a renewable source of hydrogen?

Professor Craig Buckley (03:45):

Yeah. We're looking more at how it can be detected because in the past, and the other thing I didn't mention was that basically where this seems to happen is when you've got iron ore. So, there's some interaction with water and iron ore that produces the hydrogen near the surface and Western Australia's got heaps of iron ore, so it's a great thing for Western Australia. We probably have lots of natural hydrogen as well, but in the past, when all the oil companies and gas companies gone prospecting their detectors don't pick up hydrogen. They just pick up what they're looking for.

Jessica Morrison (04:14):

Iron ore bodies.

Professor Craig Buckley (04:15):

So, there's been lots of hydrogen always coming up, but they just haven't realised it was there.

Jessica Morrison (04:22):

So, we sort of need to find it first, detect it, and then work out how to capture it.

Professor Craig Buckley (04:22):

So, now we know it's there. So, now we are working on a project within the hydrogen storage research group, which I run here at Curtin, basically to look at a way of detecting that hydrogen using what we call Raman scattering. So, it's a way of scattering. It uses a laser. And from that, you get this nice signal for hydrogen. And basically the future idea is to put this on a plane or on one of those drones and pretty much go out to the outback and fire your laser and see if you can detect the hydrogen. And then if there's enough quantities of it coming out of the ground, that's where you'd start digging and maybe getting some way of capturing it.

Jessica Morrison (05:00):

It sounds quite futuristic. In terms of, you said you're working on this already, how far advanced are you in the work?

Professor Craig Buckley (05:08):

Well, we're doing the lab stuff, and making the laser in the lab. It can be done. It's not... But we're starting from scratch on a small budget at the moment, but basically we're putting in a grant through the Future Energy Exports CRC to get some more funding for it. And basically the idea is to just set this Raman scattering technique up. First to show that it works in the lab that it can detect hydrogen. And then we hope to be able to take it out in the field.

Jessica Morrison (05:35):

For more large scale applications.

Professor Craig Buckley (05:37):

So, it'd be really good for hydrogen leaks as well. So, if we're going to put hydrogen into pipelines and all that stuff, which people we want to do, there will be a lot leaking from the pipelines. And so, you'd like to monitor those leaks. It might be a good way of monitoring the leaks as well, as well as in factory settings as well.

Jessica Morrison (05:51):

Would this mechanism only be able to detect gold or white hydrogen?

Professor Craig Buckley (05:57):

Well, it just detects hydrogen. The colour just signifies what source you've used to get the hydrogen in the first place, but yeah, this will just detect hydrogen. Yeah. Raman scattering can detect all sorts of other gases as well. But the key reason for us to use Raman is because it's one of the few ones that does detect hydrogen and just a nice line spectroscopy.

Jessica Morrison (06:16):

Fascinating. Well, I have to get you back on to talk about that once that's in a large scale application.

Professor Craig Buckley (06:21):

It's doing quite well at the moment. Yeah.

Jessica Morrison (06:23):

It sounds really interesting.

Professor Craig Buckley (06:24):

And we have a number of geologists at Curtin as well who are interested in the production, where is it actually occurring, and why is it producing from the ground in those places?

Jessica Morrison (06:33):

Definitely going to have to get you back for a future episode on that one.

Professor Craig Buckley (06:36):

No worries.

Jessica Morrison (06:36):

So, going back to green hydrogen because that's been topic of conversation of recent times, what are the potential uses of green hydrogen?

Professor Craig Buckley (06:45):

Well, yeah, as I said, green hydrogen, you can produce it from say solar, wind, geothermal, a number of renewable type sources. And when you do that, there's lots of actual applications. One of them is we can add hydrogen into the natural gas network. So, if you add up to... I think the figure is about 13% these days. That's not too bad. You can probably do that without any modifications. If you go above 13%, well, then you have to think about when the natural gas comes out of your appliance, mixed with the hydrogen, the appliance by may not be suitable anymore. So you have to change the appliances at the other end. And that's because of the flame speed of hydrogen. It's about eight times faster than methane. It's also hydrogen has an invisible flame, you can't see it. Well, under certain circumstances you can, but in daylight and stuff like that you can't really see it. So, basically these are the type of things. So many years ago, 60 years ago, they changed from town gas to natural gas. They had to do the same thing. They had to actually change the appliances for natural gas. And we'll have to do the same thing as we go closer and closer to 100% hydrogen.

Jessica Morrison (07:48):

How far off are we having 100% hydrogen? Or is that a loaded question?

Professor Craig Buckley (07:52):

In those pipelines, it could be a fair way off because the other thing hydrogen does, which other gases don't do is it embrittles materials. It's so small, it can get into materials and just stay in there and form what we call a dislocation or a defect. And that can actually then actually form a bigger one. And then you finally get a crack and a rupture. So that's called embrittlement so you can get embrittlement of pipes, and we're doing a project on that in our group as well. We've got, actually, a permeability measurer. So, basically what happens is you have hydrogen at high pressure and low pressure, and you have your material in between and you see how long it takes to permeate through the material.

Professor Craig Buckley (08:29):

Ideally, it shouldn't permeate through, but there's only... Nearly, well, every material it permeates through if you give it enough time. Aluminium is probably the best. Well, not aluminium, but alumina, Al2O3, that sort of stops the hydrogen. Pretty much takes forever to go through, but other types of metals and stuff, it can go through much quicker and plastics as well. So we're looking at plastics, and the pipeline materials. And then we're looking at different coatings, which we might be able to put on these, just stop it from permeating through, and have stop the embrittlement as well.

Jessica Morrison (09:00):

You talked earlier about leaks. So just from what you've said there, I'd imagine that hydrogen could more easily than other gases go through leaks. So, would that then mean an overhaul for infrastructure like pipes and...

Professor Craig Buckley (09:13):

It could. That's right. And that's probably... There's a lot of people looking at different coatings on these pipelines, or can we use the existing pipelines, and the... Into your house, it's fine, because the pressure of hydrogen's very low. It's only just above one bar, basically. That's the pressure of the natural gas that goes into your house, just above atmosphere.

Jessica Morrison (09:32):

When you turn on your stove?

Professor Craig Buckley (09:33):

Yeah, when you turn your stove on. And so, and they are plastic pipes, PVC, polyethylene type pipes. And so, they're fine. But once you go to higher pressures like where you're pumping the hydrogen or the natural gas originally at the moment, you are looking at about 150 bar, the pressure's quite high. That you had to pump that natural gas down through the pipeline. So they're big pipelines at that point. If you start putting hydrogen in there these pipelines because they're made out of a certain steel, the hydrogen will embrittle. And it just depends on how long it takes for the pipeline to be destroyed. That's what it comes down to. So some people say, "It'll be fine because the pipelines will still last 50 years," but then...We need to do more. We need to do more research in that area.

Jessica Morrison (10:15):

Watch this space by the sounds of it. So, Craig, green hydrogen featured in several nation's energy strategies at the recent UN climate conference, COP26. However, the idea of using green hydrogen isn't exactly new. It's been around for decades. So, why is it now being seen as a feasible energy solution?

Professor Craig Buckley (10:33):

Yeah. Okay. So the reason for that is the cost of renewable energy, such as solar and wind has dropped drastically over an order of magnitude in the past couple of decades. Now, it's got to a price where it's actually cheaper than using, say coal to produce electricity. So, PV and wind can be less than four cents a kilowatt-hour, whereas coal is around six. So, they're already cheaper, and you've got to remember that in the past people baulked on using hydrogen because of the production costs of producing it. And basically it turns out that if you use an electrolyzer and that's even today's modern electrolyzers to produce hydrogen, I have to use a little bit of numbers here.

Jessica Morrison (11:14):

That's all right.

Professor Craig Buckley (11:16):

It costs 54 kilowatt-hours per kilogramme of hydrogen produced. Though, when you actually then use that hydrogen, you only get 33 kilowatt-hours back. So, you're losing quite a bit of energy and people say, "Well, it makes no sense to split water to produce hydrogen. We might just get it from the fossil fuels. But now that carbon, the CO2 problem is such a major problem, climate change and everything, and most countries have got a price on carbon, even though we don't in Australia, that'll come, I hope. Basically, if you put all that together, it becomes much more feasible now to actually use the hydrogen by using renewable energy to produce it. And basically, even though it's you get less energy out than what you put in because it's now a commercial prospect there's places where you can use hydrogen where you can make a lot of money, and that far outweighs that small gap.

Jessica Morrison (12:13):

Small loss that they're making.

Professor Craig Buckley (12:14):

Small loss that you make there. That's right. So, it comes back to commercial things. They've always been able to do it, but now the electrolyzers are much better. The actual fuel cells is what we use the hydrogen in that produces electricity when you put hydrogen into a fuel cell. They're much better, much more efficient as well.

Jessica Morrison (12:31):

These are the storage cells.

Professor Craig Buckley (12:33):

Yeah. A fuel cell is just the reverse of an electrolyzer. An electrolyzer you put electricity in to split water, to produce hydrogen. In a fuel cell you put hydrogen in and oxygen and you produce electricity and water. And that's why your car can run on a fuel cell, which will be basically electricity. And what will come out of the tail pipe will be water.

Jessica Morrison (12:54):

It's the way of the future, isn't it?

Professor Craig Buckley (12:55):

That's completely reversible. So, that makes a lot of sense. And then if you take the climate change into account as well, that's the only way to go.

Jessica Morrison (13:02):

As you said, most countries have a price on carbon now.

Professor Craig Buckley (13:05):

And they'll only get more and most of our industries in Australia do have a price on carbon, but there's just not a government mandate at the moment. They all factor it in.

Jessica Morrison (13:15):

They all factor it in because they probably know it will happen.

Professor Craig Buckley (13:17):

They know it's going to happen sometime...

Jessica Morrison (13:18):

Down the track. That's right. Are there any barriers that may prevent widespread adoption of green hydrogen?

Professor Craig Buckley (13:24):

Yeah. There is some. Look, the one that normally pops up is safety, but I can say right here and now I've been working with hydrogen for a long time, and basically hydrogen is no more unsafe than the fossil fuels we use every day. We drive around in a bomb in the back of our car every day, basically using petrol. We don't worry about that, right? So, hydrogen is no more dangerous than any of them, but it has special needs. So, you have to take all those things into account.

Professor Craig Buckley (13:51):

So for instance, if you look at petrol and hydrogen, in terms of what temperature you have to go to, to ignite it, hydrogen's 585 degree celsius, whereas petrol's 220 degree celsius. It's a lot lower. But in terms of say, like I said, the flame speed, for instance, it's eight times higher than methane for hydrogen, and the ignition energy required to ignite hydrogen is 1/10th of that of natural gas. So, they're the things that you have to... It doesn't take much of a spark to ignite that hydrogen. So, basically the other thing that you have to look at too is you need four to 77% volume of hydrogen in air for it to actually ignite. Whereas, that's six times greater than what you do for methane, natural gas.

Professor Craig Buckley (14:35):

So, these are the things that are pros and cons for hydrogen. But if you look at it overall, we produce 90 million tonnes of hydrogen per year at the present time. Most of it comes through the steam reformation of methane and all that hydrogen's handled quite well. You don't hear of many accidents. It's all done around the ports, right? Where it's handled on the refineries. Now we're moving it into the public space, and this is where we have to make sure that all the safety procedures are there, but I've got no problem whatsoever that hydrogen's no more dangerous than what we're already using.

Jessica Morrison (15:06):

We've got fuel stations everywhere, haven't we?

Professor Craig Buckley (15:09):

Yeah, and I think the other thing we've got to think of too is that one of the things that could stop it is people pushing very hard to say, "Look, let's go to green hydrogen overnight." It can't happen overnight because let me just give an example. At the moment in Western Australia, we produce 74 million tonnes of natural gas, which we export every year, right? If you wanted to send the same amount of hydrogen overseas, you'd need 34 million tonnes of hydrogen because it's got a higher energy content than natural gas, right?

Professor Craig Buckley (15:42):

That 34 million tonnes. If you wanted to produce it just renewably using renewable electricity you would need 1,836 terawatt-hours of electricity. To put that into context, that's over seven times greater than our total electricity production in 2018 in Australia. So that's how much renewables we need to be able to be exporting the same amount of hydrogen as we're doing methane at the moment. So, that gives you some scope of the scale of the problem. We have to build a lot of renewables. They have to come first and then we can start talking about producing the hydrogen.

Professor Craig Buckley (16:18):

And the other thing is the water problem. To produce, going back to that example, the 34 million tonnes of hydrogen, you need 310 gigalitres of water, which is about two and a half percent of Australia's water needs. So, it's quite a bit. But if you put it into context, that's about half of what the mines use at the moment. So, the mines are already using double that. So, that's ideal water too that's used in the... If you look at the chemical reaction to go from hydrogen to water, you basically need nine litres of water for one kilogramme of hydrogen, but we will need more than that because there'll be losses and stuff like that as well. So, when you put it into context like that, I don't see that as being an insurmountable barrier. It's just one of the barriers that will come up. But it's...

Jessica Morrison (17:02):

Yeah, larger scale use of green hydrogen.

Professor Craig Buckley (17:04):

Yeah. And so, sea and ocean plants can be used where if you haven't got enough fresh water. The thing is you have to use pretty pure water in electrolysis. It can not be dirty water. And so, you have to use membranes and things like that to actually pass the water through to actually purify it enough to be able to use it in the electrolyzer.

Jessica Morrison (17:23):

Could that be done at desalination or existing desalination plants?

Professor Craig Buckley (17:26):

Yeah, it could. I mean, I think when they produce in the desalination plants, they produce pretty pure water from that. But again, if you have a lot of desalination plants, especially at that sort of scope, you're going to be producing a lot of salt and there is environmental concerns about the amount of salt that will be just that part of the ocean if you know what I mean. It'll dissipate over time, but just locally. So, there's local problems as well as national, as well as global problems.

Jessica Morrison (17:50):

Yeah. Quite all encompassing, isn't it?

Professor Craig Buckley (17:52):

But overall, I don't see any of these being insurmountable whatsoever. Not when we've been living on fossil fuels for the last 100 years and we've got over all those problems, and that's mainly because they just had huge tax breaks. I mean, that keeps the economy going so you just... The governments are behind it. So, if you give those breaks to say a hydrogen economy, I don't see it taking too long for it to take off.

Jessica Morrison (18:15):

That was my next question. In terms of you say that the renewables, the solar, and the wind need to come first in order to produce the green hydrogen, what do you believe is the timeframe that we could see those come online, and therefore be able to produce the amount of green hydrogen we'd need?

Professor Craig Buckley (18:32):

It does depend on how much the governments get behind it because industry already is starting to. If you look at what Twiggy Forrest is doing, he's already said by 2030, he's going to run all his mining operations on green hydrogen. Not green hydrogen, sorry, renewables, and that will involve green hydrogen as well. So, it does really depend, but most countries are looking at 2050 as being that target to have, I don't know what it was now. Was it 50% cut in CO2? Or, yeah. So, they're all looking at that 2050 target. I think it's got to be done a bit earlier though.

Professor Craig Buckley (19:03):

And so, this will depend on whether the governments... I know the state governments in Australia are very good. They put a lot of money into hydrogen projects and there's a lot of renewable energy projects occurring. There's some really big ones touted for Western Australia in the giga water range. If these all come online, well, then you'll start to be having this renewable energy, which you can be used. Part of that renewable energy can be used to produce hydrogen. See, and the good thing about hydrogen is a lot of people say, "Well, why won't we just use batteries?" Well, batteries are fantastic for short term storage. One to two hours, batteries are the best. Hydrogen won't beat batteries, no way, but once you want to go above 24 hours and seasonal storage, hydrogen is way better. So, it's horses for courses and there shouldn't be a conflict between batteries and hydrogen. They just should work together because it depends on what you're actually using it for. Other uses for hydrogen. I don't think I answered most of that question because I only got to the natural gas part, but-

Jessica Morrison (20:00):

That's all right.

Professor Craig Buckley (20:01):

There's a hydrogen in transport. So basically fuel cell cars running on hydrogen. You pretty much need five kilograms of hydrogen and because to get five kilograms in the tank, you got to compress it to high pressure, 700 bar. And that's where some of the safety issues come in. Basically, that 700 bar tank with five kilograms of hydrogen will take you pretty much the same distance that your petrol car will take you. That will be a fuel cell car. So the hydrogen will actually feed a fuel cell, which will produce electricity. Oxygen will come in and electricity will be produced and water will be produced. So, the low hanging fruit for hydrogen in transport is trucks and buses because really batteries are probably you need far too many batteries to be able to run a truck, and a bus, for instance. So hydrogen, which has much higher energy density than batteries would be much better to use.

Professor Craig Buckley (20:55):

Whereas, for a car short things around the city batteries are fine. The other thing is the world record on actually a distance of a car going was just recently on hydrogen, and that was 1,360 kilometres on one tank.

Jessica Morrison (21:07):


Professor Craig Buckley (21:08):

Yeah, that was in California just recently. So yeah, you can go the long distances with hydrogen and in terms of the price on hydrogen because you only need five kilograms to fill your tank. Even if hydrogen's $10 a kilogram that's 50 bucks to fill your tank, and if it's less, it's less. It just depends on what others are going to charge for their hydrogen, and what it comes down to.

Jessica Morrison (21:28):

Certainly less than what I paid recently, and I've just got a small SUV.

Professor Craig Buckley (21:31):

You don't need much hydrogen to run a car in terms of actual mass, and there is a lot of other applications. There's hydrogen to produce renewable ammonia. We can add renewable hydrogen to nitrogen. The Haber-Bosch process to produce ammonia and have renewable ammonia. There's also adding it to CO2 to produce synthetic fuels. You can also use it in industrial applications as well. And one of the big things at the moment is green steel. So, a lot of industries at the moment are looking at using hydrogen instead of coal for green steel. Yeah. And that way, because what happens with the coal is you burn the coal and you produce carbon monoxide and that reduces the iron ore, and you get your pure iron. Whereas, if you take that out of the equation, but you also get a lot of CO2. If you take that out of the equation and just add hydrogen instead of coal, and this is, it's still a fair way down the track. If you just put hydrogen in there you basically produce water and the hydrogen reduces the iron oxide to get the pure iron and what comes off is water. So, no CO2. No. So, it really mitigates the CO2 again. So, that's a good thing about hydrogen. It can really stop CO2 completely being formed.

Jessica Morrison (22:40):

Absolutely. Craig, hydrogen has been a focus of your research for some years, obviously. What drives your interest in this area?

Professor Craig Buckley (22:48):

Yeah, I've been doing hydrogen research for the past 33 years. I started in third year back in Griffith University back in 1988. Pretty much doing a hydrogen project, and then I did honours, and I did a PhD that was all on hydrogen. Then I went overseas and did two post docs and they were all hydrogen projects as well. So, those hydrogen projects all involved pretty much hydrogen storage. So, the fascinating part for me was that some of these materials that we're looking at to store hydrogen such as just a metal, for instance, could take you twice as much hydrogen as liquid hydrogen, for instance. So, with liquid hydrogen, you basically... The big problem with hydrogen is the volume that you require. It's got the highest mass energy density of any known material on the planet, but its volume metric density at say, room temperature and room pressure is lousy.

Professor Craig Buckley (23:34):

So, to give you an example, your car, if I wanted to fill your car up with hydrogen at one bar, one atmosphere in room temperature, you would need a full tank 3,000 times the size of what you have already. So, it's trying to compress that hydrogen down. So, if you go to compress gas at 700 bar, it's basically 40 grams per litre. If you turn it into a liquid it's 70 grams per litre, which is much better, but you have to go to minus -253 degrees C to get it down into a liquid. So, that's really, really cold. That's much colder than liquid nitrogen and way, way colder than your refrigerator. So, basically what other ways can we store hydrogen?

Professor Craig Buckley (24:14):

Well, these metal hydrides, you can get up to 150 grams per litre in some of these metal hydrides. So, it sucks it up like a sponge, basically. And to get it out again, you just raise the temperature basically to get it out again. That's what fascinated me the most about the hydrogen work, these metals.

Jessica Morrison (24:30):

Sort of how it could be, have a practical application.

Professor Craig Buckley (24:33):

Yeah, yeah. That's right. And so, originally, all our research was based on trying to get a fuel tank for a car, which would run on hydrogen and have a metal hydride as the actual fuel tank. But they're very heavy. That was a problem. You get a lot of hydrogen in there, but the actual mass of the metal required was just way, way heavier than your fuel tank that you use at the moment. So, I started the Hydrogen Storage Research Group in 2003 here at Curtin. And so, it's been going for quite a while now, and we've got 30 people in the group now, so it's really going forward.

Professor Craig Buckley (25:03):

One of the really interesting projects we are working on is one of these metal hydrides. So, one of the problems with hydrogen is in terms of they want to export it, right? Produce it here because we've got all this sunshine, all this wind and stuff, all these renewables, produce it. How do we get it overseas? How do you get it on a ship and send it overseas? So, basically there's a couple of methods. You can use liquid hydrogen. You can use ammonia because we know how to transport ammonia and it's mainly hydrogen and nitrogen, and or what they call liquid organic hydrogen carrier. And the other way is solar state hydrides, which we're working on.

Professor Craig Buckley (25:39):

So, with the liquid hydrogen, you got to go to that -253 degrees C to turn it into a liquid. You can lose up to 36% of your energy to do that, which is quite a lot. Ammonia is quite good. We can turn used renewable hydrogen to produce renewable ammonia, send it overseas. But once we get it overseas to get it back to hydrogen, you have to crack the ammonia, which means heat up to four to 500 degrees C and basically that's expensive and it's not-

Jessica Morrison (26:05):

Feasible, yeah.

Professor Craig Buckley (26:06):

... not a really good process, and liquid organic hydrogen carriers. They have less density than actually liquid hydrogen. And then the solar state hydrides, they're really good. The one we want to do is called sodium borohydride. Basically, we can produce it in Australia using renewable energy. So, no CO2 in the process. And then we ship it to Japan as a powder. Once we get to Japan, we just add water. The great thing about it is when you add the water, you get hydrogen from the actual material, the sodium borohydride, and you also split the water and get hydrogen from the water as well. So you get up to 21.3 weight percent, which is quite a lot, which in terms of comparing it to ammonia, it turns out to be 1.3 times more hydrogen from the sodium borohydride than from the actual ammonia because you're also getting hydrogen from the water. If you don't have to transport the water it's just added once you get to the destination.

Jessica Morrison (26:56):

So, how far are you into looking to that sort of-

Professor Craig Buckley (26:58):

What happens is once you produce the hydrogen, you form what we call a borate. We send that borate back to Australia. We use renewable energy to turn that borate back into the sodium borohydride. So, that's a completely recyclable process. So, if you can keep doing that, it could become quite cheap to do it. So, what we are working on is this borate back to the sodium borohydride. How's the best way of doing that? And we do have a process, which is working a moment to a certain extent. So, we are putting a patent in on that. And so, we're thinking that within the next few years, yeah, it could be a viable process, but everyone's talking about ammonia, liquid hydrogen, or liquid organic hydrogen carriers. No one's talking about this solar state hydride. So, we're sort of coming under the radar a little bit.

Professor Craig Buckley (27:39):

We're working with a Western Australian company called Kotai and that's on a Australian Research Council Linkage grant. Yeah, we've made a lot of progress, and the other good thing about this sodium borohydride is when you add the water to it, the hydrants reduce. You can actually control the pressure to whatever you like. So, we can get up to 1,000 bar pressure in the lab, which you might think, "Well, what do you want to do that for?" Well, it turns out if you go to a hydrogen refuelling station, what you have as an electrolyzer that splits the water, that hydrogen that comes out is that 20 bar. And then they use an ionic compressor to compress it up to 900 bar. So, that's what they have to get up to 900 bar in the refilling station. And then they dispense it to 700 bar for a car and 350 bar for a bus or a truck.

Professor Craig Buckley (28:26):

So, basically we've got a process that's just by adding water we can get up above that 900 bar, and we don't need any compressor or anything to do it. It just happens in the process. This also could be well into the future, could be a replacement for electrolyzers. So, we don't know.

Jessica Morrison (28:43):

You guys are covering it all. You'll be on a few more episodes. I think by the sounds of it. Lots of really exciting stuff there, Craig. So, Curtin's Institute for Energy Transition is set to open in 2022. What role will it play in Australia's hydrogen economy?

Professor Craig Buckley (28:58):

Yeah, look, it'll be a very important role, I think. Other universities do have this energy type institute. And so, we're a little bit behind the eight ball there, but like I said when I was dean of research back in between 2012 and 2017. End of 2016, we actually started this process, and it's finally got to the point now only five years later to actually have this institute, which is great. So, it'll have sort of five themes and one will be renewable generation. And then there'll be energy storage, theme two. Theme three will be basically hydrogen economy. Theme four will be the transition from oil and gas going to a hydrogen type economy. And then you've got the final one will be minerals and mining. All the whole five of them will have some form of hydrogen involved with them. Even the mining part, because we want to run the mines on basically renewables and green hydrogen will play a big part in that because of the seasonal storage and all of that type of stuff.

Professor Craig Buckley (29:58):

And yeah, one other thing I'd just like to mention is also I'm chairing the next major international conference on hydrogen in this area, which is the 17th International Symposium on Metal-Hydrogen Systems. So, that will be October 30th to November the 4th next year. It was originally touted to be in 2020, November, 2020, but COVID hit, so we had to postpone it, unfortunately. But yeah, we are raring to go again because the borders look like they may be opening up again for international people in February. So, I hope to get over 400 people at that and a lot of international people as well. So, yeah, we are looking forward to that. So, if anyone who's listening to this wants to have a look just go to the website. Look up MH2022 or MH2020, and you should be able to get some information.

Jessica Morrison (30:52):

Great. We'll pop those in the show notes as well. Thank you, Craig, for coming in today. Really appreciated the chat. It was really interesting. It looks like you've got a lot of exciting projects happening in this space.

Professor Craig Buckley (31:03):

Yeah. That's only half of them.

Jessica Morrison (31:05):

You're a very busy man.

Professor Craig Buckley (31:06):


Jessica Morrison (31:07):

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