Wednesday 17 February 2021 10:04am
A University of Otago researcher is co-leading a new international alliance with Germany to explore green hydrogen technologies in New Zealand.
‘Green’ hydrogen is hydrogen created sustainably using renewable energy (solar, wind, water, geothermal), or from biomass. The resulting hydrogen gas can be used to generate electricity, power engines, heat homes and industrial processes, make fertilisers and other chemicals, or to store excess energy until it is needed.
Unlike fossil fuels, or hydrogen produced from natural gas, green hydrogen does not produce greenhouse gases. The only waste product from burning hydrogen is pure water.
The Green Hydrogen Alliance was born when a major German research institute, the Helmholtz Centre Geesthacht (HZG, near Hamburg), approached Otago researcher, Professor Sally Brooker, to establish a joint German-New Zealand research centre on green hydrogen following a call from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) to fund bilateral initiatives in the Asia-Pacific Research Area (APRA). Dr Regina Eisert, NZ-Germany science and innovation coordinator for the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), happened to be in Germany and was able to visit the HZG and see their impressive set-up. The coordinator is funded by MBIE to support cooperation with German partners.
Professor Brooker says working with Germany provides significant opportunities to bring in investment and attract high-value industrial and research partners.
“New Zealand researchers have exciting and unique expertise relevant to the global green hydrogen economy. We need to combine our kiwi know-how and ingenuity to achieve the critical mass to make the most of working with a major partner such as Germany,” says Professor Brooker, of the University of Otago’s Department of Chemistry.
The main purpose of the BMBF-APRA partnership is to support the establishment of collaborative links and lay the foundation for a physical presence of German partners in New Zealand. BMBF approved phase one and have invited the Alliance to submit a full proposal.
“The German Government takes a long-term view and has already announced its commitment to transition to green hydrogen, so we anticipate this being an enduring and valuable collaboration, one that will include significant industry partnership from the beginning. Together with Germany, New Zealand has an opportunity to influence development of global energy solutions,” Professor Brooker adds.
Together with Associate Professor Aaron Marshall (Chemical and Process Engineering, University of Canterbury), Professor Brooker has brought together researchers and engineers from universities, Crown Research Institutes (GNS & Scion), the MacDiarmid Institute, Ara Ake, and Callaghan Innovation. These scientists are partnering with private sector experts in the New Zealand Hydrogen Association and consulting with Iwi to build a national ‘Team Green Hydrogen’. The group is also negotiating with MBIE for support for the further development and implementation of the BMBF-APRA proposal.
Professor Richard Blaikie, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research, at the University of Otago, says New Zealand’s efforts in the green hydrogen space are significantly bolstered through the establishment of a Germany-New Zealand research centre.
“If the likes of the heavy transport sector could convert to green hydrogen - that would be a huge step towards decarbonisation and meeting our climate change obligations. By working with Germany, our New Zealand experts will be better positioned to contribute to answering the most important energy questions of our time,” Professor Blaikie says.
Global demand for hydrogen continues to grow, but at present almost all of the 45–65 Mt of hydrogen produced per year is ‘brown’ hydrogen - hydrogen made from fossil fuels. Brown hydrogen is responsible for 830 MtCO2 of annual CO2 emissions globally. By contrast, green hydrogen offers a chance for ‘deep decarbonisation’ of the economy by replacing fossil fuels, including in hard-to-decarbonise applications such as heavy transport, steel production and energy storage.