Hydrogen has several advantages over other energy carriers, such as batteries. It is a single product that can service multiple markets and, if produced using low- or zero-emissions energy sources, it can help us significantly cut greenhouse emissions.
Fueling a car with hydrogen

Could this be the way to fill up in future?

Hydrogen could become a significant part of Australia’s energy landscape within the coming decade, competing with both natural gas and batteries, according to our new roadmap for the industry.

Hydrogen gas is a versatile energy carrier with a wide range of potential uses. However, hydrogen is not freely available in the atmosphere as a gas. It therefore requires an energy input and a series of technologies to produce, store and then use it.

Why would we bother? Because hydrogen has several advantages over other energy carriers, such as batteries. It is a single product that can service multiple markets and, if produced using low- or zero-emissions energy sources, it can help us significantly cut greenhouse emissions.

Potential uses for hydrogen.
Compared with batteries, hydrogen can release more energy per unit of mass. This means that in contrast to electric battery-powered cars, it can allow passenger vehicles to cover longer distances without refuelling. Refuelling is quicker too and is likely to stay that way.


The benefits are potentially even greater for heavy vehicles such as buses and trucks which already carry heavy payloads, and where lengthy battery recharge times can affect the business model.

Hydrogen can also play an important role in energy storage, which will be increasingly necessary both in remote operations such as mine sites, and as part of the electricity grid to help smooth out the contribution of renewables such as wind and solar. This could work by using the excess renewable energy (when generation is high and/or demand is low) to drive hydrogen production via electrolysis of water. The hydrogen can then be stored as compressed gas and put into a fuel cell to generate electricity when needed.

Australia is heavily reliant on imported liquid fuels and does not currently have enough liquid fuel held in reserve. Moving towards hydrogen fuel could potentially alleviate this problem. Hydrogen can also be used to produce industrial chemicals such as ammonia and methanol, and is an important ingredient in petroleum refining.

Further, as hydrogen burns without greenhouse emissions, it is one of the few viable green alternatives to natural gas for generating heat.

Our roadmap predicts that the global market for hydrogen will grow in the coming decades. Among the prospective buyers of Australian hydrogen would be Japan, which is comparatively constrained in its ability to generate energy locally. Australia’s extensive natural resources, namely solar, wind, fossil fuels and available land lend favourably to the establishment of hydrogen export supply chains.

Why embrace hydrogen now?

Given its widespread use and benefit, interest in the “hydrogen economy” has peaked and troughed for the past few decades. Why might it be different this time around? While the main motivation is hydrogen’s ability to deliver low-carbon energy, there are a couple of other factors that distinguish today’s situation from previous years.

Our analysis shows that the hydrogen value chain is now underpinned by a series of mature technologies that are technically ready but not yet commercially viable. This means that the narrative around hydrogen has now shifted from one of technology development to “market activation”.

The solar panel industry provides a recent precedent for this kind of burgeoning energy industry. Large-scale solar farms are now generating attractive returns on investment, without any assistance from government. One of the main factors that enabled solar power to reach this tipping point was the increase in production economies of scale, particularly in China. Notably, China has recently emerged as a proponent for hydrogen, earmarking its use in both transport and distributed electricity generation.

But whereas solar power could feed into a market with ready-made infrastructure (the electricity grid), the case is less straightforward for hydrogen. The technologies to help produce and distribute hydrogen will need to develop in concert with the applications themselves.

A roadmap for hydrogen

In light of this, the primary objective of our National Hydrogen Roadmap is to provide a blueprint for the development of a hydrogen industry in Australia. With several activities already underway, it is designed to help industry, government and researchers decide where exactly to focus their attention and investment.

Our first step was to calculate the price points at which hydrogen can compete commercially with other technologies. We then worked backwards along the value chain to understand the key areas of investment needed for hydrogen to achieve competitiveness in each of the identified potential markets. Following this, we modelled the cumulative impact of the investment priorities that would be feasible in or around 2025.

What became evident from the report was that the opportunity for clean hydrogen to compete favourably on a cost basis with existing industrial feedstocks and energy carriers in local applications such as transport and remote area power systems is within reach. On the upstream side, some of the most material drivers of reductions in cost include the availability of cheap low emissions electricity, utilisation and size of the asset.

The development of an export industry, meanwhile, is a potential game-changer for hydrogen and the broader energy sector. While this industry is not expected to scale up until closer to 2030, this will enable the localisation of supply chains, industrialisation and even automation of technology manufacture that will contribute to significant reductions in asset capital costs. It will also enable the development of fossil-fuel-derived hydrogen with carbon capture and storage, and place downward pressure on renewable energy costs dedicated to large scale hydrogen production via electrolysis.

In light of global trends in industry, energy and transport, development of a hydrogen industry in Australia represents a real opportunity to create new growth areas in our economy. Blessed with unparalleled resources, a skilled workforce and established manufacturing base, Australia is extremely well placed to capitalise on this opportunity. But it won’t eventuate on its own.

This article originally appeared on The Conversation. Read the original article here


  1. We could go the nuclear path, or clean coal, but this is an opportunity to break new ground in technology,. But we need to get electricity prices down, so it may need to be done in parallel to new coal power stations.

  2. Electrolysis of water to produce Hydrogen and Oxygen has pretty poor efficiency, in many cases below 50%, so it’s not great as a transport fuel. As a means of storing excess energy from Solar and wind etc. it can make sense, but if you think Hydrogen storage has safety issues, then you haven’t checked into the dangers of Oxygen.

  3. I share Chris Coles’s concern. How will the explosion risk be managed? Are there already existing, cost-effective approaches or is more research required?

    1. Hi Brad,
      We passed your questions on to our scientists and this is their response:
      “Yes, hydrogen can be explosive, but this is the case with most transport fuels. As hydrogen is lighter than air, if there is a leak the gas rises rapidly into the air. If the gas happens to ignite, the flame also rises rapidly. The Hindenburg footage illustrates this. Compare this to petrol. If there is a leak the fuel pools around the car and creates a cloud of flammable vapour around the vehicle. This is far riskier for the occupants. Furthermore, the latest composite tanks for storing hydrogen are extremely strong and are able to withstand severe impact without rupturing. ”

  4. I think there are bonafide uses for hydrogen-produced electricity but vehicles are a unlikely part of that. Other than battery density and charge time, batteries have a clear advantage. They are way more efficient from energy source to usage and are substantially safer.

    We’re already seeing batteries large enough for 250 miles on a charge. Faster charge times will reduce inconvenience of longer travels. For city bus fleets, very few travel much over 200 miles per day. We already have adequate technology. Maybe long haul trucks could be an application but let’s see how Tesla and others do.

    The worst part about hydrogen is producing it. I want to see us stop using petroleum products which have horrible side effects including mining, fracking, methane losses, and finally the CO2 produced when consumed. Producing hydrogen mostly avoids the last problem. Producing H2 from electrolysis results in only about 50% of the energy being available to the target vehicle, also a terribly wasteful process.

    Safety is another huge concern. Imagine an underground parking garage where someone’s H2 tank leaks. H2 normally dissipates rapidly because of its low atomic weight. But in a garage, it might collect along ceiling for a while. A little spark would cause a devastating explosion.

    So, let’s hope Australia wakes up to the truth.

  5. This is 10 year old gas-tank/gas-station legacy thinking. Hydrogen makes no sense as a car fuel because there is no source of hydrogen other than from natural gas or very inefficient electrolysis using electricity from WHERE? And there is no distribution system. WIth batteries improving 25 to one over the last decades. they have completely eclipsed the outdated hydrogen idea. Better to use the clean renewable electricity DIRECTLY to an EV than this oudated gas-tank kegacy thinking about hydrogen.

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