Aqua Aerem to extract water from desert air and convert it to hydrogen
A new project in the Australian Outback will trial an innovative technique for converting solar energy into hydrogen by capturing moisture from the air and splitting it via hydrolysis, making it possible for hot, arid areas to become energy exporters.
Tennant Creek is a three-pub, 3,000-person town on the northern rim of Australia's famous red center, a colossal expanse of rocky desert. A brisk 1,000-kilometer (620-mile) drive south will get you to the great famous rock of Uluru, or you could head about the same distance north and find yourself in Darwin, with not a whole lot interrupting either trip. It's proper Crocodile Dundee territory, with what's described as a warm desert climate.
Like much of Australia's Northern Territory, it's got a lot of sun, but not a ton of water to spare for exports. So as Australia moves to set itself up as a green hydrogen-based energy exporter, Tennant creek is a good place to try out a new technology that doesn't require large volumes of municipal water, or a connection to the local power grid, to produce hydrogen.
New startup Aqua Aerem has signed a testing deal with the NT government for a 12-week trial of its solar + air to hydrogen system. Energy will be captured through a concentrator photovoltaic system with dual-axis tracking, which the company says will capture energy twice as efficiently as a regular silicon panel.
The next step is to convert that energy into transportable hydrogen via electrolysis, which needs only electricity and water as inputs. Here Aqua Aerem deploys its secret sauce: an atmospheric water capture system that sucks moisture out of the air. It works more efficiently in warmer climates, says the company, requires little in the way of maintenance and produces no waste other than air. The trial will mainly be focused on the water capture process, the other elements being fairly mature technologies at this point.
"This trial is the first stage of a pilot renewable hydrogen project," says a statement from the NT Government, "that will ultimately produce renewable hydrogen for Territory Generation’s Tennant Creek Power Station to generate green energy as part of the electricity mix for the Tennant Creek community."
Aqua Aerem's proposed system going forward involve the installation of a 15-megawatt electrolyzer that it estimates would produce around 912 tonnes of green hydrogen per year, providing about half the energy the Tennant Creek community uses.
But the endgame is much larger in scale. The company says the technology can be scaled up to much larger installations to create hydrogen in bulk export volumes for the Asian markets to the north. An interesting project, for sure. It'll be interesting to see how the economics of this system work out given that once it's set up, it has no ongoing energy or water costs.