An artist's impression of a hydrogen power plant.

Could hydrogen be the solution to the gas crisis?

Soaring electricity and gas prices have shone the national spotlight on energy, but even before the current crisis, big business and governments had begun to look to hydrogen as one of the answers to meet the demand for clean and reliable energy.

Clean energy experts say hydrogen project near Whyalla on the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia could help provide answers on how best to carry out the process of making and storing hydrogen energy.

Program director for energy and climate change at the Grattan Institute, Tony Wood, said one of the main benefits of the project would be to really test the technology.

“Nobody really does it all over the world yet,” he said.

So how will this work? And how could it be used to help our energy-hungry world? We’ll take a look.

How do we get hydrogen?

Basically, you get hydrogen by separating hydrogen from oxygen in water (H2O).

This is done by a process called electrolysis, which sends an electric current through the water and causes the chemical reaction.

Oliver Yates claims that excess solar energy, which would otherwise be wasted, can be used to produce hydrogen.(Provided: Oliver Yates)

Former Clean Energy Finance Corporation Managing Director Oliver Yates, who is now at Sentient Impact Group, explains:

“It just starts as a glass of water…zap the glass of water with wonderful renewable energy, effectively electrifying my glass of water, and it splits the oxygen and I end up with hydrogen,” a- he declared.

“So everybody cleans their teeth, they clean it with fuel.”

The process may not seem energy efficient, but the electrolyzers will be powered by excess solar energy.

Yes, South Australia sometimes generates too much sun, at the point where the panels are temporarily turned off.

Mr Yates said having an electrolyser to absorb that extra energy and produce hydrogen was exactly what was needed when there was too much solar power.

“At the moment the energy is actually wasted, it can actually use it,” he said.

Excess solar power is usually generated in the middle of the day, and Yates said that’s when electrolysers tend to operate.

He said they also have the ability to shut down quickly when needed.

However, Mr. Wood said, electrolysers were not that cheap.

“You have to generate renewable energy first, but then you have to add the cost of conversion,” he said.

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Is green hydrogen the fuel of the future?

What’s at the Whyalla Hydrogen Plant?

In addition to the 250 MWe electrolyzers, the South African government will build a 200 MW hydrogen-powered power plant.

The government has said the electricity will help supply power to factories, manufacturing companies and mining companies.

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