Hydrogen may be the zero-emission fuel of the future, but transport and storage has always been a head-scratcher. Highly flammable and difficult to ship due to its low density, the logistical issues have always stood in the way of progress, until now. Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has road-tested its ammonia to hydrogen technology for hydrogen fuel-cells in two purpose-built hydrogen-cell cars.
The CSIRO team at the Pullenvale Technology Hub in Brisbane, Queensland, developed a metallic membrane that separates hydrogen from ammonia, while at the same time ensuring the hydrogen is of an ultra-high purity by blocking other gases. Effectively, the process is a reversal of the Haber-Bosch process, used to transform hydrogen into ammonia. In this instance, the CSIRO team takes nitrogen (N) out of the air and makes ammonia (NH3). The idea is that the resulting ammonia would then be shipped to the refueling depots where the hydrogen is extracted via the membrane in a fairly low-energy process.
The technology has huge potential for the export market as ammonia stores almost twice as much energy as liquid hydrogen, while being far easier and safer to ship. Though hydrogen cars could potentially enter the Australian market in as little as two years, Asia is where the team – and Australia's resources industry – is looking just now.
This is the very first time hydrogen cell cars have been fueled with hydrogen derived from ammonia and CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall was one of the first to take a test-ride. The team used a Toyota Mirai and a Hyundai Nexo, and both companies have made considerable investments of time and money in the future of fuel-cell cars.
"This is a watershed moment for energy, and we look forward to applying CSIRO innovation to enable this exciting renewably-sourced fuel and energy storage medium a smoother path to market," says Dr Marshall. "I'm delighted to see strong collaboration and the application of CSIRO know-how to what is a key part of the overall energy mix."
CSIRO plans to scale-up the technology and deploy it in a number of larger-scale demonstrations both in Australia and overseas.
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