AFL may be hydrogen powered at the MCG
CSIRO and EnergyAustralia have presented a plan to the trustees of the Melbourne Cricket Club to trial hydrogen fuel cell technology on the nation’s biggest stage – the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
The plan – yet to be accepted by the trustees – would include a small, 35-kilowatt cell fuelled by hydrogen produced from methanol as part of a hybrid clean-energy system for the MCG, including lithium ion batteries, solar panels and renewable energy from the grid.
CSIRO chief executive Larry Marshall said work could begin on the project as early as next year if the trustees and MCG supplier EnergyAustralia decide to go ahead, and CSIRO expects hydrogen fuel cell technology to be viable for transport and remote, off-grid sites by about 2025.
“We believe hydrogen will compete on an economic basis in transport and remote area power by 2025 – for remote mines and towns,” Dr Marshall told The Australian Financial Review.
The MCG’s main energy needs are for lighting, heating and airconditioning. The light towers used for night matches and during daytime matches when the light is poor use about 1.8 megawatts of power at high beam.
The groundkeepers also use LED lights to speed the growth and post-match recovery of the turf on the northern wing – which the winter sun rarely reaches above the three-tiered grandstand.
The MCG project stems from a challenge by EnergyAustralia chief executive Catherine Tanna to CSIRO to come up with a plan to use monuments such as the Opera House, the Australian Museum and the MCG to showcase new Australian energy technology.
Dr Marshall said CSIRO included a hydrogen fuel cell in the plan because Australia still has an opportunity to build a multibillion dollar industry in hydrogen, whereas solar panels and batteries must be bought from other countries, such as China, despite vital parts of solar panel technology and key minerals used in batteries being produced in Australia.
The revenue from developing a domestic hydrogen industry could go part of the way to replacing the export income and tax revenues from the coal, LNG and iron ore industries. These are the mainstay of Australia’s exports but face uncertain futures as the energy mix changes in response to climate change and steelmakers look to processes that don’t require coal.
Hydrogen can be transported as ammonia without freezing, doesn’t cause fires in this form, and burns hot enough to be a potential candidate for low-carbon steelmaking techniques in the future.
“You put all of these reasons together and you can see why we really drove hard and doubled down and tripled and then we quadrupled our investment in it to try and make it real,” Dr Marshall said.
Hydrogen fuel cell technology has long held out the promise of clean, abundant energy that can be produced from water or common industrial liquids such as ammonia and methanol. But for many years it was a bridesmaid of the energy revolution because of the difficulty and expense of making safe use of the volatile gas.
These problems have gradually been overcome by new technology – such as CSIRO’s metal membrane technology, which can produce hydrogen from ammonia to a level of purity that Dr Marshall said surprised global vehicle makers Toyota and Hyundai. That makes it an ideal transport fuel that inflicts less wear and tear on fuel cells.
Toyota and Hyundai have placed big bets on fuel cells, and launched production hydrogen-powered vehicles onto the market. In Australia, Andrew Forrest’s Fortescue Metals Group is backing the technology with a $20 million CSIRO research partnership with a view to using hydrogen fuel cells to replace polluting diesel power in remote mine sites.