Green hydrogen fans have lots to cheer about these days as one huge mega-project after another takes shape, but there is also some interesting activity bubbling up on the small end of the scale. With that in mind, let’s check out a new modular, off-grid, above-ground, rainwater harvesting, solar powered hydrogen fuel station over in Australia. Wait, doesn’t the US have one of those, too?
Keeping It Above Ground
Above ground is the keyword here. Electric cars get props for having nothing coming out of their tailpipes, and they also have this extra benefit of not contributing to the LUST problem, which for some reason nobody talks about. However, people should be talking about it, because LUST is a big problem — for gasmobiles, that is.
That’s LUST, as in Leaking Underground Storage Tanks. When you pull into your local gas station, all of your gas does not come out of that little thing sticking up out of the ground. It comes from a storage tank below the surface. Not all of them leak, of course. However, there are a lot of them, and some of them leak into the ground, potentially impacting people who depend on underground aquifers for drinking, which EPA estimates includes about half the US population.
Here in the US, in 1984 Congress finally passed a law requiring corrective action for old leaking underground tanks for petroleum and other hazardous liquids, setting standards for new ones, and tasking EPA with creating a program to deal with the whole mess. Since then the law has been strengthened and expanded, but the problem persists.
Though EPA calculates that 37 states closed about 90% of their problem sites over the past 20 years, 544,000 underground storage tanks remain. They require constant monitoring, correction, and removal if necessary, and a quick stroll through the Intertubes reveals plenty of holes in the program.
“Addressing the LUST sites remaining to be cleaned up continues to be a high priority for EPA and our state, territorial, and tribal partners,” EPA recently wrote, by way of introducing the idea that a backlog of cases remains, even as new ones pop up.
Above-Ground Modular Green Hydrogen Refueling Station To The Rescue
One obvious solution to the LUST problem is to store your hazardous liquids above ground, where you can keep an eye on them. Another part of the solution is to store only the minimum necessary to fulfill near-term needs, and that’s where green hydrogen comes in.
For those of you new to the hydrogen topic, most of the world’s supply of hydrogen is produced by pulling it out of natural gas, which is why hydrogen fuel cell cars get the stink-eye from advocates for climate action. They have zero tailpipe emissions, but they drag a long tail of fossil energy baggage behind them.
Green hydrogen from renewable resources could solve that problem. It used to be a pie in the sky idea, until recent years when the cost of wind and solar power began to sink like a stone. That set the stage for electrolysis, which refers to systems that apply an electrical current to water, and out bubbles the green hydrogen.
That opens the door for hydrogen fuel stations that can store green hydrogen in above-ground tanks. Add a water storage tank and perhaps throw in a battery for additional energy storage, and everything you need is out in the open air.
That finally brings us to the latest news about green hydrogen fuel stations. The firm Hydrogen Fuels Australia has just dropped word that plans for a new hydrogen fuel station are under way for the Melbourne suburb of Truganina, which will give it bragging rights to the first ever off-grid modular green hydrogen production and fuel station in all of Australia.
“Founded on environmentally sustainable and ‘low impact’ concepts, H2FA’s operation uses its own electrolysis assets (in island mode) to convert renewable power into green hydrogen,” explains the company, emphasizing that this is a modular, off-grid system and not a grid-connected system.
The sustainable element includes rainwater harvesting to supply the electrolysis system.
The Global Green Hydrogen Technology Network Is Growing
H2FA also emphasizes that the site is not a one-off. It will serve as an R&D center to fine tune the technology and scale up the green hydrogen production end of things.
The project also demonstrates how the international knowledge base and supply chain is pivoting into green hydrogen.
Partners in the project include Australia-based Skai Energies along with Nilsson Energy of Sweden to manage the site’s microgrid, with Green Hydrogen Systems of Denmark providing the electrolyzers, and the US firm Plug Power supplying power to the site.
If you’re not surprised to see Plug Power in the green hydrogen mix, join the club. CleanTechnica first took note of Plug Power back in 2010, when it was pitching hydrogen fuel cell forklifts to the masses. That was before the green hydrogen industry began to emerge. Now that it has, Plug Power is still eyeballing all sorts of hydrogen-fueled mobility devices, but apparently it has also come to realize that green hydrogen production is a money maker.
A 750-kilowatt solar array will power the electrolysis system at the Truganina site. The initial plans call for 60-90 kilograms of green hydrogen daily, eventually ramping up to 3,000 kilograms. H2FA calculates that will provide enough to fuel over 100 vehicles daily.
More Modular, Renewable Hydrogen Fuel Stations For The US
If all goes according to plan, the new H2FA fuel station will be up and running next year. The company is already planning to expand the concept across Victoria and the rest of Australia, too.
So, what about the US? Although hydrogen fuel cell passenger cars have struggled to find a foothold in the market, a growing number of auto makers are eyeballing the long haul truck field and other heavy duty uses. Quick refueling, long range, and high power are the basic benefits.
The US Department of Energy, for one, is a huge fan. Earlier this month Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm announced that hydrogen will be the first area of focus under the Energy Department’s new Earthshots innovation initiative, modeled on the successful Moonshot and Sunshot programs.
The Earthshots initiative follows on the heels of a growing movement among hydrogen stakeholders in the US to pump up interest in green hydrogen as a decarbonization pathway, and not just for mobility purposes. In one especially noteworthy development that should send shivers up the spines of natural gas stakeholders, the powerhouse legacy firm Mitsubishi has come up with a new gas turbine for power plants that is specifically designed to integrate green hydrogen with natural gas on an incremental basis, until sufficient supplies are available for 100% green hydrogen operations.
Yikes! Hopefully those green hydrogen power stations will do a better job under climate impacts than natural gas power plants. Natural gas was supposed to be a cleaner “bridge” fuel to deep decarbonization, but for one thing its cleanliness is in question, and for another thing it doesn’t seem up to the task of providing power on a reliable basis during hot spells as well as cold ones.
Looking at you, Texas. In an interesting twist, earlier this year Texas launched a project to explore the development of a regional hydrogen hub, leveraging its considerable wind and solar resources, so perhaps help is on the way.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Image (screenshot): Courtesy of Hydrogen Fuels Australia.
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