An artist's impression of a hydrogen power plant.

Could hydrogen be the solution to the gas crisis?

Rising electricity and gas prices have put energy in the national spotlight, but even before the current crisis, major corporations and governments began to turn their attention 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 do 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 key benefits of the project would be to actually test the technology.

“Nobody does this anywhere in the world anymore,” he said.

So how will it work? And how can it be used to help our energy-hungry world? Let’s see.

How do you get hydrogen?

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

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

Oliver Yates says excess solar energy, which would otherwise go to waste, can be used to produce hydrogen.Delivered: Oliver Yates

Former CEO of Clean Energy Finance Corporation, Oliver Yates, who now works at Sentient Impact Group, explains:

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

“So everyone is brushing their teeth, they are cleaning it with fuel.”

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

Yes, South Australia sometimes generates too much solar energy, to the point where panels are temporarily disabled

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

“Right now the energy is actually lost. It could really use this,” he said.

Excess solar energy is usually generated in the middle of the day, and Mr Yates said electrolysers tend to run.

He said they also have the ability to quickly turn off when needed.

But, said Mr Wood, electrolysers weren’t that cheap.

“First of all you have to produce the renewable energy, but then you have to add up the costs of converting it,” he said.

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Is green hydrogen the fuel of the future?

What’s in the Whyalla hydrogen plant?

In addition to the 250 Mwe electrolysers, the government of South Africa will build a 200 MW power station powered by hydrogen.

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

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