A $2 million Canberra-based project that promises to supply clean energy by producing green hydrogen from potable water is blazing a trail in renewable energy development.
A decade in the making, the project will use prototype technology to remediate the emissions-heavy concrete industry.
Elvin Group Renewables partnered with Hydrostar Asia Pacific to accelerate the commercialisation and assist with the manufacture and delivery of its own unique membrane-less electrolysers using a revolutionary design that is cleaner and produces hydrogen at 25 per cent less cost than other processes.
The hydrogen project is part of a multi-million dollar commitment by the company to de-carbonise its concrete operations and develop integrated renewable energy solutions.
All this without government assistance, although a recent tour of its facilities attracted interest from the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator Zed Seselja, and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) officials.
At its trial site in Lyneham, the company has built electrolysers that, combined with a hydrogen fuel cell, can power households and businesses, and agricultural operations in remote areas. These include potential sites in the Pacific islands which are actively seeking solutions to their energy problems.
Elvin Group Renewables has already built a $7 million 5 megawatt-hour (MWh) battery in Holt using Tesla Megapacks that can supply a minimum two hours of power to 4300 homes in Holt and Ginninderra. The battery also contributes to grid stabilisation.
A solar farm to feed the battery will also supply electricity for an electrolyser to produce hydrogen to fuel Elvin’s entire fleet of converted fuel cell-based trucks within five years.
“They will be hydrogen-electric,” CEO Craig Elvin says.
“They’ll be quiet and they will have maintenance intervals that will be much, much better than the current trucks.”
Mr Elvin says the cement and concrete industry has to do some heavy lifting to reduce its carbon footprint, but in doing so, it needs to make economic sense.
Using hydrogen eclectic, the company will be able to operate its fleet for up to three times longer than their current replacement schedule, as well as slashing its fuel costs over the life of the vehicles.
The Holt facility will eventually be able to generate and store electricity, and produce and store green hydrogen.
“If we can do it in Canberra, we can do it anywhere in the world,” Mr Elvin says.
Elvin Group Renewables managing director Sam Blackadder, who helped take the small island nation of Tokelau off the grid in 2013, says one of hydrogen’s advantages over lithium batteries is that it doesn’t degrade over time.
He says it can also be stored, particularly useful if power is interrupted or the hydrogen is used for fuel cell-based electric vehicles or boats.
At Lyneham, Elvin has four working cylindrical electrolyser models – two 40 kilowatt and two 50 kW units, although the capacity can be expanded to 70 kW and 100 kW, respectively. Two years ago, that figure was just 5 kW. The model is currently going through rapid prototype upscaling to a commercial product made locally with 100 per cent recycled materials.
The units run off direct current (DC) which can be effectively connected directly to a solar PV farm.
“This process is simple and very cheap,” Mr Elvin says.
The hydrogen can be put through a fuel cell and fed into the electricity network, or the fuel cell can be used instead of a diesel generator to supply backup power to a house, community or business.
And like battery facilities, the product can be scaled up by combining multiple units.
Mr Blackadder says it is important to provide end uses now and take those necessary first steps before progressing to large industrial applications.
Elvin Group sees great potential for the product in the bush or in island states where even solar generation can be interrupted by natural disasters such as cyclones; or in the case of Tonga recently, a volcano and tsunami.
The technology can also help develop industries, jobs and skills in places where a secure energy supply is lacking. Mr Blackadder says a good example is Papua New Guinea, where two plans for fish canneries are on hold because of the cost of connecting electricity.
Elvin Group believes hydrogen can also power clean, green marine coastal and inter-island transport. It currently has a zero-emissions fuel cell catamaran project in progress to demonstrate the possibilities.
The company is currently working with Evoenergy, AGL, CIT and its other partners to bring its work to real-world application and help reduce Australia’s fossil fuels and shift the economy to a zero-emissions future.
“For us, it’s a case of showcasing how we can create green hydrogen economically and then to start demonstrating some of the uses we foresee. But the uses are only limited by your imagination,” Mr Elvin says.