The Australian Government is aiming to position our hydrogen industry as a major global player by 2030, with a world-first online tool supporting that goal being selected as a finalist for the Eureka Prize for Innovative Research in Sustainability.
Developed by a research team led by Dr Stuart Walsh of Monash University’s Department of Civil Engineering and Dr Marcus Haynes of Geoscience Australia, the Economic Fairways Mapper project is designed to support the responsible and sustainable development of renewable energy and critical mineral resources in Australia.
Its Hydrogen Economic Fairways Tool (HEFT) maps factors including: the economic viability of hydrogen projects in Australia using diverse datasets such as geological profiles, the cost of building a hydrogen plant, the availability and cost of energy and water sources, where and how to conduct the associated carbon capture and storage, transport methods, and the current market value of the resource.
In short, HEFT can suggest whether a potential investment is worth the effort.
Consolidating the data
Before the tool was released, locations were chosen initially from a geological perspective; detailed economic considerations came later.
“We decided to take some of those assessments that we would do later on and bring them to the fore – not to supersede geological assessments, but to run alongside,” Walsh explained.
“Then we realised that the same assessments we were doing with HEFT’s predecessor BlueCap naturally fed into a framework where we could identify renewable resources for the production of hydrogen and also other large-scale renewable projects.”
Geoscience Australia’s online platform draws information from more than 7000 sources, some of which needed to be created especially for the project.
“Geoscience Australia has a wealth of information and an open source philosophy,” Walsh said. “But we also needed to create models that would allow for economic assessments on the fly, that we could automate and install on the back end – things such as transportation distances, distances to particular infrastructure.”
One of the philosophies the team had going into the project was to be humble in terms of what factors to include.
“There are many different players in the space, and everyone has access to different levels of information,” he said. “Often the people we talk to within the industry will have better data than and greater insight into what things will actually cost.
“We want to make sure we have flexibility in our models so people can implement their own assumptions. We also want to make those things as easily accessible as possible because, as well as being able to use the website, if they have their own datasets they can take the code and use it themselves.”.
Green energy factors
While Walsh gains confidence from companies telling him that their analysis lines up with that of HEFT, another goal of the tool is to increase awareness of all the aspects of green energy production.
“There are a lot of different ways to produce hydrogen, and there are a lot of different opinions around what things should cost,” he said. “It’s very difficult for someone who’s coming into that for the first time to be aware and keep track of all those things.”
The next iteration of the project will incorporate environmental, social and government concerns.
“When we go to select locations, again we have a variety of different stakeholders who will have a variety of different opinions about what is a worthy sustainability metric. There are conflicting opinions about what we should be measuring.”
To combat this, HEFT will soon be able to highlight projects that are more beneficial across a range of different metrics.
There are also related tools on the way that look at green ammonia and green steel.
Walsh said the Monash University team has conducted analyses on projects in Brazil and New Zealand, and Geoscience Australia is working on similar projects with counterparts in Canada. However, his measure of success remains closer to home: a greater understanding of the energy transition before us.
“We’re talking about building massive amounts of renewable power, massive increases in terms of the commodities that we need to produce in Australia, and changes in the commodities that we’re producing,” he said.
“I’m not saying we’re going to have fewer discussions about it, but if everyone goes in with their eyes open, at least we’ll have a better understanding of where everyone’s coming from.”
The Eureka Prize for Innovative Research in Sustainability is presented by the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Science and is awarded for research that has produced innovative solutions to support ongoing and improved sustainability practices or policies. The winner will be announced on Wednesday 23 August.