Iron ore magnate Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest’s Fortescue Metals Group and CSIRO have joined forced to deliver a $20 million deal to develop and commercialise new hydrogen technologies to support the creation of a new hydrogen industry in Australia.
The deal, announced in Brisbane on Thursday afternoon, will include a commercialisation agreement of CSIRO’s metal membrane – a technology that allows the extraction of pure hydrogen from ammonia.
While the focus in recent years has been on the influx of electric cars, led by Calinfornian-based Elon Musk and Tesla, industry experts believe hydrogen-powered cars could also make it into mass production.
Mr Forrest said Fortescue was keen to get involved to unlock the potential of hydrogen which could be the low-emission fuel of the future, with a $19.1 million contribution over the next five years.
“We are at the beginning of a an energy revolution and Fortescue intends to be at the forefront of this once-in-a-generation opportunity,” he said.
“By combining CSIRO’s global leading research and development with Fortescue’s capability to rapidly develop new technologies, we will firmly establish our position in the global hydrogen industry.”
CSIRO will work with Fortescue to identify, develop and commercialise technologies to support the creation of an Australian hydrogen industry and future global intake.
The agreement includes commercialisation arrangements for the membrane technology, with a subsequent five-year investment in hydrogen research and development.
Big car makers such as Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Hyundai and Toyota are all manufacturing hydrogen-powered cars and selling their vehicles, in Japan, Korea, the EU and the United States. Hyundai is planning to release a hydrogen-powered car in Australia with a range of 800 kilometres.
Hydrogen has a low density, making it notoriously difficult to transport and store in tanks and other existing fuel infrastructure.
The CSIRO has solved this by finding a way to separate it from ammonia, which is a compound of hydrogen and nitrogen. Unlike hydrogen, ammonia can be stored at moderate temperatures and pressures, is already mass produced in Australia and has an established distribution network.
The CSIRO has developed technology that would effectively enable you to pull up a service station and, at the pump, a process of cracking, which involves passing the ammonia over a catalyst at high temperature, would separate the hydrogen. That would be pumped into the electric car’s tank to power its fuel cell.
CSIRO chief executive Larry Marshall said CSIRO had a strong history of collaboration with industry, not just helping industries reinvent themselves through global disruption, but also through the invention of new industries like hydrogen where Australia can take the lead.
“This partnership is great news for Australia, not just through new industry creation and the jobs that will flow from it, but in contributing to a different energy future that is secure, affordable and sustainable,” Dr Marshall said.
Fortescue chief executive Elizabeth Gaines said the company was also committed to reducing Australia’s footprint as well as helping ensuring cost-effectivee energy for its own operations.
“The agreement builds on Fortescue’s previous energy initiatives, including the conversion of the Solomon Power Station from diesel to gas generation and the development of the Fortesecue River gas pipeline,” MS Gaines said.
CSIRO’s national hydrogen road map released earlier this year provided a coordinated blueprint for growing Australia’s hydrogen industry and found that an economically-sustainable hydrogen industry could soon be reality.