EnergySafe Magazine Summer 2018/19, issue 52 - Page 14

Latest news Summer 2018/19 energysafe issue 52 The emergence of H 2 as an energy source By Tyler Mason, Gas Engineer As part of the global effort to reduce man-made carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) emissions and prevent possibly damaging changes to the Earth’s climate, work is being undertaken on a number of fronts to provide viable alternatives to reliably deliver the enormous amount of energy our society requires. Whilst public debates about electrification, renewables and battery storage continue, a promising potential solution is emerging in the form of hydrogen (H 2 ). Hydrogen is a gas that still undergoes combustion/oxidation, resulting in usable heat release. However, there is no carbon involved in this reaction, meaning no carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide is produced and the only combustion by-product is water. Therefore, what you can create with natural gas can also be done with H 2 , including fuelling power stations—without generating CO 2 . Additionally, H 2 can be used in conjunction with oxygen from the air to generate electricity in a fuel cell. This technology has existed for over half a century and provided electrical power for the Apollo Command Module (the vehicle that took us to the moon) throughout the 1960s and ‘70s. Hydrogen gas can be generated from renewable energy sources by using renewably-generated electricity to electrolyse water, which is an established process that produces both hydrogen and water. 14 In the shorter term, while renewable generation capacity is still lacking the capacity to fully satisfy society’s energy needs, hydrogen can be extracted from natural gas or coal through a process known as thermal reforming. Thermal reforming is a modern and proven technology that can be combined with carbon capture and storage (CCS) to capture the vast majority (approximately 98%) of generated CO 2 . Beyond the almost too-good-to-be-true properties of H 2 for energy transport and delivery, hydrogen also has a similar energy storage potential to natural gas, which is piped to the vast majority of Australian homes and businesses. This means there is the potential to repurpose gas infrastructure to store, transport and deliver hydrogen instead. Whilst it can be easy to overlook gas in a pipe as an energy storage means, the piping network’s volume actually allows the storage of a vast amount of gas under pressure. In comparison, the United Kingdom’s Northern Gas Networks’ H21 Project estimates that Northern England’s natural gas distribution network can store, by volume of hydrogen, the equivalent energy potential of more than 62,000 South Australian mega batteries. This stored energy can be rapidly converted to either heat or electricity, as required. While it sounds like the answer to all our energy and environmental needs, a huge amount of work is needed to bring it all about, not to mention that the storage and use of hydrogen has its risks that need to be managed — see ‘Hindenburg disaster’. The H21 Project from the Northern Gas Networks (UK) is working closely with the UK’s safety regulator, the Health and Safety Executive, to design and conduct a significant range of tests to determine the potential impacts on consumer and industrial safety that may result from the radical adoption of hydrogen in place of natural gas, within the existing distribution infrastructure. ESV is closely monitoring this project and other emerging technologies as a part of our role overseeing the safe use of gas and electricity in Victoria.