By Sophie Vorrath / One Step Off The Grid / 20 March 2019

A New South Wales-based effort to develop renewable hydrogen storage solutions – including a 5kWh home solar storage system – has received $3.5 million in backing from green investment outfit Providence Asset Group.

Tamworth-based company H2Store is working on the technology in partnership with the University of New South Wales, which promises to overcome one of the key barriers to realising the potential of green hydrogen in Australia – storage and transportation.

“The biggest challenge with hydrogen is it is very low density, and it needs big storage tanks, which makes transporting it not viable,” H2Store’s Llewellyn Owens told the Northern Daily Leader last week.

“We’ve made a metal that absorbs the hydrogen and then releases it, which makes it very easy to transport. We’ve known that you can transport hydrogen this way for a while, but the metal had to be heated up to 300 to 400 degrees for the hydrogen to be released. This one basically operates entirely at room temperature.”

The UNSW said on Tuesday that the money from Providence Asset Group would be used to deliver phase one of the four-stage project, including the creation of a home hydrogen storage prototype to compete with – and even outperform – current home battery systems, like the Tesla Powerwall.

The team hopes to have a 5kWh home storage system prototype ready by the end of this year, and a product on the market late in 2020. This would be followed by a “ramped up” 15kWh commercial-scale storage system.

“We will be able to take energy generated through solar panels and store it as hydrogen in a very dense form, so one major advantage of our hydrogen batteries is that they take up less space and are safer than the lithium-ion batteries used in many homes today,” said Professor Kondo-Francois Aguey-Zinsou from the UNSW School of Chemical Engineering.

“We can actually store about seven times more energy than the current systems.

“This means that in a residential scenario, people will be able to store a lot more energy using the same footprint as Tesla batteries, to potentially power their home, charge their cars and still have excess to sell back to the grid.”

Other benefits to the UNSW/H2Store’s technology, the team says, include a lifespan of about 30 years – compared with around 10 years for some batteries – and none of the fire risk associated with lithium-ion systems.

And at the other end of the energy storage scale, the researchers are also working on system for solar and wind farms that will include the design of storage vessels suitable for hydrogen export, and which could in turn have potential to replace diesel in remote generation and large transport applications.

“As the hydrogen technology develops, we will see a new cost-effective alternative to chemical batteries, remote electricity generation, household heating and increased range of hydrogen vehicles,” Owens said.

According to the Northern Daily Leader, the idea has attracted a total of $7 million in investment, with another $3.5 million previously committed by an unnamed company.

The $3.5 million from Providence Asset Group follows last month’s signing of a 10-year dealbetween the asset manager and UNSW Sydney to accelerate research and development of sustainable energy technologies.

UNSW Dean of Engineering Professor Mark Hoffman said Australia had a real opportunity to lead to world in hydrogen storage, energy and transportation solutions.

“This is a very exciting project and I am very grateful to Providence Asset Group for investing in the pioneering work being done at UNSW.  I look forward to watching the developments over the next 12 months,” Hoffman said.

Indeed, the investment from Pioneer marks the second financial endorsement of renewable hydrogen technology in as many days, with the federal government on Tuesday granting $3.1 million to a Toyota Australia project to establish a green hydrogen hub powered by solar and battery storage at one of its old car manufacturing plants in Altona North in Victoria.

An ARENA report prepared in 2018 by consultants ACIL Allen found enormous potential in an Australian renewable hydrogen market, including $10 billion in exports over 20 years, and 16,000 new blue-collar jobs, mainly in regional areas.

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