[ASC-media] Media Release: Australia 'to become hydrogen economy'

CRCA Media crca-media at starclass.com.au
Mon Nov 3 22:09:52 EST 2003

Co-operative Research Centres Association Media Release - CRCA 38

November 4, 2003


Australia is on track to become one of the world's first hydrogen economies by the mid-C21st, based on research under way in a consortium of the nation's Co-operative Research Centres (CRCs).

Hydrogen could become the main power source for both electricity and transport - transfiguring Australia from a small but greenhouse intense economy  into a leader in efforts to halt global warming

THE NATION has over 500 years' supply of energy which can be converted to clean hydrogen for electricity or liquid fuels for transport in the State of Victoria alone, says Dr David Brockway, Chief Executive of the CRC for Clean Power from Lignite.

"Lignite, or brown coal, has a number of advantages over other energy sources, in that it is easy to mine and highly reactive, which means it is cheaper to extract the energy," Dr Brockway says.

"The technology we're working on will enable us to extract the energy without emitting greenhouse gases or other pollutants, by converting the coal to hydrogen and then sequestering - or storing - the CO2."

The work combines two cutting edge technologies: mechanical thermal expression (MTE) to de-water the brown coal by heat and compression, and then gasification to make syngas, a blend of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. The syngas is then reacted with steam to create pure streams of hydrogen, for power generation, and CO2 which can be locked away.

"The Gippsland Basin is a potential repository for CO2. The brown coal energy resource is vast. It is several times the scale of oil and gas resources of Bass Strait and even dwarfs those of the Northwest shelf.  It has the added advantage of being close to major centres of industry and population."

"The Gippsland Basin is a premium repository for CO2. For instance in Bass strait, we could replace the carbon we have extracted as oil or gas with CO2," he says.

"The brown coal energy resource is vast. It is several times the scale of Bass Strait and even dwarfs the Northwest shelf.  It has the added advantage of being close to major centres of industry and population."

Dr Brockway says his CRC estimates MTE-IGCC (integrated gasification combined cycle) technology could produce electricity at $31-32 a megawatt hour - lower than current technologies - and even with the cost of sequestration, the objective is to achieve an all-up cost of clean energy that is below $80/MW-hour, below wind or and significantly below solar energy.

"An added bonus is the potential to make clean diesel fuel to keep our transport fleet running when domestic oil reserves run low, and avoid Australia being dependent on the Middle East."

A CRITICAL STEP in Australia becoming a hydrogen economy is to find reliable and economical ways to lock up CO2 underground says the Chief Executive of the new Cooperative Research Centre for Greenhouse Gas Technologies (CO2CRC), Dr Peter Cook.

"Australia is richly endowed with the sort of rocks that naturally trap carbon dioxide, in our coal, oil and gas basins. If we can demonstrate this can be done at a reasonable cost, it will mean we can go on using our fossil energy reserves for centuries to come without adding to greenhouse or air pollution."

Dr Cook says that Australia faces a multi-billion dollar cost for renewing its energy infrastructure.  We should plan to include the elimination greenhouse and other emissions in this renewal.

He explains that geo-sequestration involves compressing CO2   until it becomes liquid and then injecting it into suitable rock strata at depths of about a kilometre or more underground.

"The CO2   is then trapped in the subsurface for thousands of years and longer. Australia has natural accumulations of CO2   that have been safely stored below the surface for millennia, which prove this is feasible."

To test the idea CO2CRC researchers are working closely with the gas, coal and power generation industries.

Dr Cook says that studies undertaken by the CRC indicate that excluding the cost of CO2 capture it may be possible to store carbon dioxide for around $10 or less a tonne depending on how far the CO2 has to be piped to a suitable location. The search is now on to find suitable  locations for geosequestration around the continent.

Another challenge which the CRCV is  consideringis possible  ways to retrofit our aging power stations with systems  to separate CO2  from other gases vented in  exhaust stacks, so it can be sequestered. This could  be an important interim step on the road to modern gas-fired plants.

SUNLIGHT AND BLACK COAL, two of Australia's most abundant energy resources, could be combined to provide clean energy to power the economy for centuries into the future.

That's one of the conclusions of a new study on the hydrogen economy by the CRC for Coal in Sustainable Development.

The report "Hydrogen from Coal: a pathway for the future" points out that Australia has 250-500 years worth of black.

"Hydrogen can be produced from coal by two main methods - gasification, and use of coal-generated electricity to electrolyse water. Gasification offers the greater potential for CO2 capture and storage, as well as the reduction of other pollutants," the study says

"With gasification however, there is the possibility of achieving very high purity hydrogen due to the ease of separation of CO2, which is found in high concentrations in the product stream.

"By sequestering CO2 , Hydrogen produced from coal gasification  has the potential to be a very low CO2 emissions fuel on a life cycle basis."

The coal industry already has an established infrastructure, is located conveniently close to major cities and industrial centres, and the cost of coal is highly competitive. The major challenges lie in supplementing Australia's existing coal-fired electricity system with hydrogen - using fuel cells together with steam turbines - and in demonstrating that the CO2 can be safely and economically captured and stored.

"The report also suggests we may take full advantage of Australia's natural abundance of sunlight by continuing to explore the potential for  solar thermal systems to gasify coal into hydrogen," says CCSD Chief Executive Mr Frank van Schagen.

"That way we would be combining two of our outstanding natural assets in a truly Australian energy solution."

The report calls for a major national investigation of the future role of hydrogen as an energy carrier in the Australian economy, and modeling of the various technological pathways to see which offer the best energy, greenhouse and economic prospects.

More information:
Dr David Brockway, CRC for Clean Power from Lignite  03 8542 0800
Dr Peter Cook, CO2CRC, 02 62003366
Mr Frank van Schagen, CRC for Coal in Sustainable Development, 07 3871 4402

Julian Cribb, CRCA media, 0418 639 245


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