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Frequently asked questions about hydrogen
Hydrogen (H2) is the most abundant, lightest chemical in the universe. On earth, it is most commonly found in molecular forms such as water and organic compounds. It is colourless, odourless, non-toxic and highly combustible.
Like the rest of the world, the main use of hydrogen in Australia is as a raw material for industrial processes.
But hydrogen can also be used like natural gas to heat and power homes, to power fuel cell electric cars and trucks, buses and trains, and to make electricity (through fuel cells or being burned to drive turbines).
Hydrogen can be produced in three main ways:
- By electrolysis – a process where electricity is used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. When renewable electricity is used the result is a zero-carbon fuel, known as green or renewable hydrogen.
- The other two ways are through thermochemical reactions
- using coal (in a process called gasification)
- or natural gas (in a process known as steam methane reforming).
These two latter techniques are how most hydrogen is currently produced. Using fossil fuels to produce hydrogen means that carbon emissions are created in the process, but if these emissions are captured and permanently stored, through Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technologies, the result is ‘clean hydrogen.’
Both clean and green hydrogen present many opportunities for South Australia, in achieving its goal of reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Hydrogen can be stored as a gas and can be delivered through existing natural gas pipelines. When converted to a liquid or another suitable material, hydrogen can also be transported on trucks and in ships. This means hydrogen can be exported overseas, making it a tradable energy commodity.
Yes. Green hydrogen is currently being produced at Hydrogen Park South Australia (HyP SA), located at Tonsley Innovation District.
HyP SA is home to Australia’s largest hydrogen electrolyser (1.25 megawatts) and is owned and run by Australian Gas Infrastructure Group (AGIG).
A blend of 5% renewable hydrogen and natural gas is being supplied to 700 domestic consumers in Mitchell Park. From 2021, AGIG began supplying industry with renewable hydrogen from its tube trailer refuelling station at Tonsley, replacing hydrogen deliveries from Victoria, and saving 120,000 kg of carbon emissions each year.
The South Australian Government is currently supporting several large-scale hydrogen projects under development, including:
- The Hydrogen Utility’s (H2U) Eyre Peninsula Gateway Project located at Cultana
- Neoen Australia’s Hydrogen Superhub
- Trafigura Group’s Green Hydrogen Project at Port Pirie
- South Australia’s Hydrogen Jobs Plan
Learn more about these projects: Hydrogen projects in South Australia
Hydrogen has been used widely in industry for over 100 years and is considered a flammable gas. Like all flammable gases, properties vary depending the gas and caution should be used when handling.
Hydrogen is an odourless, colourless, non-toxic gas. Hydrogen has properties that offer both safer handling and more challenging handling outcomes depending on the use. Reference to safe handling material Safety Data Sheets is strongly recommended prior to handling.
Although highly flammable, hydrogen is 14 times lighter than air and can dissipate very rapidly in the event of a leak. At very high concentrations, hydrogen has the ability to displace oxygen and cause hypoxia (low blood oxygen).
Before natural gas pipelines were laid in the 1960s, Adelaide properties ran on 'town gas' which was manufactured from coal and typically comprised 50% to 60% hydrogen.
Hydrogen is already in use in parts of Adelaide and Europe as a blended residential gas for cooking, hot water and heating, varying between 5% and 20% of total gas content. Initial studies from the UK show the blending of hydrogen with natural gas at 20% has produced significant reduction in carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide emissions from residential appliances.
A global transformation of the energy sector is underway. To support a future where all our energy comes from clean sources, the world needs clean, flexible, storable, and safe fuels. Hydrogen has all of these characteristics.
Globally, Japan, the Republic of Korea, China, Germany, Britain, the European Union and New Zealand all have plans for clean hydrogen.
A new study (PDF, 6.6 MB) has found South Australia’s world class renewable energy resources will give South Australia a competitive edge in the race to supply clean hydrogen to Europe through the Port of Rotterdam.
The pre-feasibility study shows South Australian hydrogen is expected to be competitive on the global market and could supply up to 10% of Rotterdam’s hydrogen requirements in 2050.
Rotterdam’s hydrogen import demand is forecast to reach 18 million tonnes per annum by 2050.
The water requirements for hydrogen production can vary depending on a number of factors including the production method and technology. Different electrolysis technologies have differing water requirements. Coal gasification water requirements also vary depending on the coal's moisture content and how the coal is prepared and processed.
To produce enough hydrogen to satisfy Japan's projected annual imports in 2030 would require about one percent of the water currently used by Australia's mining industry each year. To be a major supplier of a large-scale global hydrogen industry in 2050 would require more water.
Frequently asked questions about ammonia
Ammonia (NH3) is a colourless gas composed of one part nitrogen and three parts hydrogen. It has a distinct, pungent odour and is found both naturally in the environment, and can be man-made.
Ammonia is widely used in the production of agricultural fertiliser, but it also has applications as a refrigerant gas, in water-purification, and in the manufacturing process for certain textiles, plastics, and cleaning products.
The most common process for making ammonia is from a process called steam methane reforming (SMR) to produce hydrogen, and then the Haber Bosch process to combine hydrogen and nitrogen under extreme pressure.
Approximately 90% of the carbon dioxide produced is from the SMR process. At present, the production of ammonia is responsible for around 2% of the world’s carbon emissions.
Green ammonia is made using renewable energy and carbon free production methods.
For example, when renewable energy is used to make hydrogen through a process called water electrolysis, and the hydrogen and nitrogen are fed into the Haber Bosch process, powered by renewable electricity.
In the Haber Bosch process, the hydrogen and nitrogen are reacted together at high temperatures and pressures to produce green ammonia, NH3.
Green ammonia has the potential to offer a number of solutions in the transition to a net-zero carbon emission future. These include:
- Energy storage - ammonia is easily stored in bulk as a liquid or refrigerated in large refrigeration tanks, and transported around the world in pipes, road tankers and ships.
- Zero-carbon fuel - ammonia can be burnt as an engine fuel or used in a fuel-cells to produce electricity.
- Clean hydrogen carrier – because ammonia is composed of one part nitrogen and three parts hydrogen, and is easier to store and transport than hydrogen gas, it has the potential to be a ‘carrier’ for hydrogen markets around the world. The hydrogen can then be ‘cracked’ from ammonia through a process called thermal decomposition as required.
As global economies look to decarbonise their energy systems, transportation, and heavy industries such as mining and steel production, green hydrogen is in growing demand as an alternative carbon free fuel.
Ammonia’s chemical composition – one part nitrogen and three parts hydrogen – makes it an ideal ‘carrier’ in the transportation of green hydrogen across the world in liquid form. The green hydrogen can be ‘cracked’ or separated through a process called thermal decomposition, and used as a carbon free fuel as required.
Ammonia is easily stored in bulk as a liquid at modest pressures (10 to 15 bar) or refrigerated to -33°C in large refrigerated tanks and transported around the world by pipes, road tankers and ships.
In Australia, the safe storage and handling of ammonia falls under both federal and state government regulations including the Model Work Health and Safety Regulations and the Work Health Safety Act.
Ammonia is considered a toxic substance in Australia and the regulations surrounding its storage and transport are tightly monitored and adhered to at both a state and federal level.
These regulations and acts require facilities with more than 440,925 lbs (200 tonnes) of ammonia conduct a Safety Case to identify and mitigate the risks of operating a Major Hazard Facility.
Ammonia stored and handled correctly poses little to no risk.
However, if ammonia is handled incorrectly in can be dangerous as its vapours are reactive and corrosive.
If inhaled ammonia can burn and damage the respiratory system. Similarly, swallowing liquid ammonia causes burning and damage to the digestive system, and any contact with the skin or dermis can cause burns.
A release of liquid ammonia into the atmosphere results in the formation of an aerosol (a ‘cloud’ or ‘mist’ of fine particles with the moisture contained in the atmosphere). The vapour cloud is typically denser than the atmosphere, and tends to travel along the ground which can pose hazards to workers and persons in the vicinity of the liquid release location.
Ammonia can pose a risk of explosion if the concentration of the ammonia vapour cloud is within the flammable regime (~15% to 28%).