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Yarra Valley Water and Jacobs explore the potential of hydrogen power in the water sector

As Australia focuses more and more on renewable energy, hydrogen remains a largely untapped commercial market. A new paper co-authored by Jacobs and Yarra Valley Water explores whether Australia’s domestic hydrogen market could be supported by co-located hydrogen production at wastewater treatment plants.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions will require the planet to replace fossil fuel as the primary energy source our economy relies on. Most will be familiar with solar and wind as alternative power sources, however, both of these sources fluctuate throughout the day. This gives rise to the need to find an alternative energy source, which is where hydrogen comes in.

The concept of hydrogen fuelling our energy needs is not new. Australia’s National Hydrogen Strategy begins with a quote from Jules Verne, the science fiction author, who in 1874 envisioned a future in which:

“Water will one day be employed as fuel, that hydrogen and oxygen which constitute it, used singly or together, will furnish an inexhaustible source of heat and light, of an intensity of which coal is not capable...”

Hydrogen is all around us and it is the most abundant chemical substance in the universe. Most importantly, hydrogen exists in the product that our industry is built around – water. The broad utilisation of hydrogen has the potential to play an important role in helping to create a decarbonised, sustainable future. However, cost remains a major barrier to its adoption in Australia.

The Jacobs and Yarra Valley Water paper explores the symbiotic relationship between oxygen demand and hydrogen price to better understand how co-located wastewater treatment plants and hydrogen facilities might present an opportunity to partially subsidise hydrogen production and increase its commercial viability.

Yarra Valley Water’s wastewater treatment plant at Aurora was used as a case study in the paper. The results showed that implementing a co-located hydrogen facility at the Aurora Wastewater Treatment Plant could deliver net capital and operating cost savings to Yarra Valley Water and could help to increase the commercial viability of co-located hydrogen production.

Alan Finkel, Australia’s Chief Scientist, who chaired the recently released Australian National Hydrogen Strategy in 2019, considers Australia to be well-positioned in becoming a global leader in hydrogen production, which would potentially allow us to help fuel the world’s future energy needs.

While the idea of harnessing hydrogen as an energy source has been highly touted for a while, the technology to produce it in an economical way has remained a challenge. This report highlights that that is no longer the case, and that the water industry can play an important role in not only reducing its own greenhouse gas emissions, but also potentially becoming a renewable energy provider in the future.

Read the report