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CSIRO hydrogen breakthrough ignites fuel cell car potential

Toyota has shown its interest in FCEV technology, demonstrating the Mirai hydrogen car at several events.

Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has developed a new membrane that has the capability of separating hydrogen from ammonia, advancing the pursuit of viable hydrogen transport.

This allows bulk hydrogen to be moved in liquid ammonia form, without the need for unique transport infrastructure.

Previously, hydrogen needed to be transported in gas form, which needs to be stored under high pressure making it not only more dangerous, but also requiring specific logistic infrastructure and technologies.

With the membrane developed by the CSIRO, ammonia can be passed through a module at the refuelling station to produce ultra-high-purity hydrogen gas, ready to pump into a vehicle.

This was demonstrated recently at the Queensland Centre for Advanced Technologies where fuel-cell vehicles – the Toyota Mirai and Hyundai Nexo – were refuelled using the ammonia technique.

Ammonia can be passed through a module at the refuelling station to produce ultra-high-purity hydrogen gas, ready to pump into a vehicle. Ammonia can be passed through a module at the refuelling station to produce ultra-high-purity hydrogen gas, ready to pump into a vehicle.

The technology is part of the CSIRO's broadening focus on hydrogen power, which includes improving the generation of hydrogen and ammonia from solar energy using water electrolysis and ammonia synthesis.

These advancements mean renewable hydrogen production will likely compete with fossil fuel production, according to the research organisation.

While at face value, it may not seem groundbreaking, CSIRO chief executive Larry Marshal described the demonstration of the membrane as a watershed moment for energy.

"We look forward to applying CSIRO innovation to enable this exciting renewably-sourced fuel and energy storage medium a smoother path to market," he said. 

Local FCEV advocates, Hydrogen Mobility Australia (HMA), said that both local and state governments are committed to building hydrogen refueling stations in Australia within the next 12 to 18 months.

Speaking about the CSIRO's latest technology, HMA chief Clair Johnson said it has the potential to open new doors for both export markets as well as local opportunities for hydrogen transport.

These advancements mean renewable hydrogen production will likely compete with fossil fuel production. These advancements mean renewable hydrogen production will likely compete with fossil fuel production.

"With Australia a potential supplier of hydrogen to the world, it is imperative of governments at all levels to work with industry to realise the full potential of this opportunity, including the development of a local hydrogen-powered transport sector," she said.

While production hydrogen vehicles are few and far between, Hyundai has become the first carmaker to make a strong commitment to importing hydrogen cars, with the brand's local firm set to import a small batch of Nexo SUVs later this year.

Hyundai Motor Company Australia has already signed a deal with the Australia Capital Territory government to supply 20 Nexo units as part of the Hornsdale Wind Farm development.

The initiative will include the construction of a wind farm that is projected to have the capability to power up 1000 FCEVs a year, which may allow for private FCEV sales in the future.

Do you think hydrogen is the future of mobility in Australia? Tell us your thoughts in the comment section below.