When it comes to abundant elements, there is one chemical element that stands out. Hydrogen. It’s the most plentiful element in the universe, and Earth’s surface it’s the third most rich element. This clean-burning fuel only produces water vapours during the combustion process. So, it can be used as an alternative or a supplement to the methane in our gas networks. Additionally, it can be used in fuel cells to generate electricity or heat. Of course, this can then be used to provide energy to commercial buildings, homes, as well as vehicles. It’s not a new fuel. Before natural gas was introduced, town gas was used. It dates back to 1841 Australia. It was up to 60% hydrogen and combined with different raw materials, generally coal.
In 1969, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane started the conversion to natural gas, with Sydney following suit in 1976. This conversion has been driven by our need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Right now, natural gas is already taking care of about a quarter of grid emissions. However, that’s still not sufficient. Which is where we look to biogas to integrate gas and hydrogen to create a more efficient energy source.
In Germany, hydrogen in volumes of 10% is injected into the network. It’s possible, in the long-term, to convert an entire network to a mix of hydrogen and biogas or to pure hydrogen. This, though, would require modifications to gas appliances. Introducing smaller amounts of hydrogen doesn’t require any changes to the network or appliances. So, this is much easier to achieve than total conversion.
Hydrogen can be stored in the network and these systems are already being used. Integrated solutions address the irregularity of renewable energies. It will lead us to a net-zero emission energy and provide short-term supplies of gas as well. Additionally, the exportation of hydrogen could prove to be a significant opportunity for the Australian economy.