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Towards a sustainable hydrogen economy

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact David Leal-Ayala.

The original concept of a “hydrogen economy” was conceived in the early 1970s when concerns were first being raised about shrinking oil, gas and coal supplies. Now that we confront the threat of irreversible climate change, as well as a looming deficit between oil demand and supply, this concept needs radical re-envisioning as a truly ‘sustainable hydrogen economy’. In this talk I will sketch some of the main features of such an economy.

I will argue that hydrogen produced from renewable energy sources has a critical role to play globally as a replacement transport fuel to petroleum, and as a long-term energy storage on our main electricity grids to allow continuous supply from intermittent renewables such as solar and wind. But unfortunately there is a lack of understanding currently by many governments around the world about what role hydrogen can play – indeed most current energy policies simply leave hydrogen out!

The sustainable hydrogen energy economy I propose involves decentralised production of hydrogen from a wide variety of renewables (solar, wind, wave, tidal and biomass), rather than large-scale centralised production and very long distance transmission of hydrogen via pipelines, as mooted in the original hydrogen economy concept.

In seeking an alternative to petroleum for transport, we should follow the old maxim of ‘horses for courses’, and look for complementary deployment of hydrogen fuel cell and battery vehicles depending on the transport service to be supplied. Plug in battery electric cars, for example, are highly suited for urban usage where only short trips (up to around 100 km) are to be made between recharging. But where greater ranges are required in cars, and certainly in trucks, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are essential.

I will also give a brief overview of our recent work on solar and wind hydrogen energy systems for remote or other standalone power supplies

Associate Professor John Andrews is the leader of the renewable-energy hydrogen research group and Director of the Master of Engineering (Sustainable Energy ) program in the School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, at RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia. His book Living Better with Less published by Penguin in 1981 was one of the first works to propose sustainable development for Australia. He has played a pioneering role in assessing the potential and encouraging utilisation of wind energy for electricity generation in Australia.

This talk is part of the ELCF - Engineering for a Low Carbon Future (seminar series) series.

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