Could wastewater play a key role in accelerating Australia's hydrogen industry?


Thursday, 11 June, 2020

Could wastewater play a key role in accelerating Australia's hydrogen industry?

Could wastewater play a key role in accelerating Australia’s hydrogen industry?

Global technical professional services firm Jacobs has partnered with Yarra Valley Water to investigate the potential of an Australian hydrogen industry supported by co-located hydrogen production at wastewater treatment plants. With findings presented in the thought-leadership paper ‘Toward a Zero Carbon Future’, the study examines commercial barriers to sustainable hydrogen and looks to finding innovative solutions to take the country down the path of decarbonisation.

Hydrogen has potential to play an important role in Australia’s drive towards a decarbonised, sustainable future, but cost remains a major barrier to adoption.

Building on suggestions made in 2019’s original thought leadership paper, the latest paper uses Yarra Valley Water’s Aurora wastewater treatment plant as a case study to explore the relationship between outputs from electrolysis — hydrogen and pure oxygen.

Specifically, the analysis explores whether using oxygen in wastewater treatment processes could create enough savings for the wastewater treatment plant to effectively subsidise the cost of hydrogen and increase its commercial viability.

Based on the case study results, the paper recommends considering a transition to oxygen-based treatments alongside an assessment of whether an on-site hydrogen facility would be commercially viable. Feasibility studies on the technical and commercial viability of co-locating hydrogen facilities at a range of wastewater treatment plants will be an important next step.

“Together with Yarra Valley Water, our paper starts a conversation about a possible future role for water utilities in Australia’s hydrogen industry that supports both decarbonisation and the commercial readiness of this emerging industry,” Jacobs Senior Vice President of Global Operations Patrick Hill said.

The findings from the case study indicate that implementing treatment technology that allows for the efficient use of pure oxygen at the Aurora wastewater treatment plant could deliver net capital and operating cost savings to Yarra Valley Water compared with other treatment options tested. At the same time, the guaranteed demand for oxygen at Aurora was instrumental in enabling the co-located hydrogen facility to be commercially viable while selling hydrogen within a competitive price range of AU$2–6/kg.

Importantly, this result was achieved for ‘sustainable hydrogen’ — produced using recycled water and renewable energy — highlighting the opportunity for decarbonisation without compromising the nation’s drinking water resources.

“Embracing renewable energy is a significant focus for our business,” Yarra Valley Water Managing Director Pat McCafferty said.

“It’s been fantastic to partner with Jacobs to explore how the water sector could play a bigger role in developing an effective and commercially viable hydrogen industry in Australia.”

Although specific to the unique circumstances of the Aurora wastewater treatment plant, the conservative nature of the analysis suggests the findings are promising and point towards a pivotal role for water utilities in accelerating the development of Australia’s hydrogen industry.

The implications for the water industry and the Australian Government’s hydrogen strategy present an exciting opportunity to enable more rapid decarbonisation of the world’s most emissions-intensive industries.

Image credit: © Le Moal

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