Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

The thing about hydrogen…..

By Tom Biegler - posted Monday, 13 May 2024

Hearing a lot about hydrogen? It's the next "big thing", a green fuel, a gas, that can be made directly from cheap renewable solar and wind energy. It can be stored, transported and exported, offering Australia a key to future decarbonisation, replacement of fossil fuels, and global leadership as a renewable energy superpower.

What's more, where green electricity alone fails to replace a fossil fuel in certain "difficult-to-electrify" industrial processes like steel and fertiliser production, Green hydrogen will gallop to the rescue. (As it happens a horse called Hydrogen won the Victoria Derby at Flemington, Melbourne in 1951.)

Naturally for all these reasons various Australian industries are interested in hydrogen (the gas, not the horse). And governments are supporting and funding large R&D programs to improve ways of making Green hydrogen, like electrolysis, and applying it wherever industry sees opportunities to replace fossil fuels with green electricity.


Sounds great. But the thing about hydrogen … well, not everything is as it seems and there are good reasons to be concerned that expectations for hydrogen are too high. Primarily, hydrogen energy has already been a "big thing", several times, without much evidence of commercial success. Long gestation periods for new technologies are always a worry. The rapid greening of electricity supplies seems to have built confidence generally in green technology innovation. But electricity production was the easiest green target. The basic technologies had been known for decades.

It is informative to have a deeper look at hydrogen's recent history.

Arguably we are in a third wave of the hydrogen mania Professor John Bockris, a world famous electrochemist (and former colleague of mine), initiated in the 1960s. In 1975 he published a book Energy, the Solar-Hydrogen Alternative while he was at Flinders University, South Australia.

But nothing much happened.

In 2003 President George W Bush embraced a second wave when he announced $1.2 billion in research funding for developing clean hydrogen-powered automobiles. There's also a book about that, The Hype About Hydrogen – Fact and Fiction in the Race to Save the Climate, by Joseph J. Romm, who led the clean energy program at the U.S. Department of Energy for about 10 years.

The title says it all.


About the same time a third wave was rising in Australia. In 2003 the Australian Institute of Energy held a symposium The Hydrogen Economy – The Great Green Hope? (I spoke at it.) This is clearly the largest of the waves and is accelerating. Remember, there was hardly any interest or motivation relating to carbon emissions in the early days. Today that's the major driver and interest is now peaking.

The Australian government has a hydrogen vision and strategy and sees the need to support relevant technological advances. Government money is flowing, managed by ARENA, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. There's $2 billion for a Hydrogen Headstart initiative to generate innovative technology for scaling up of Green hydrogen production and its use by industry to cut or eliminate fossil fuel consumption.

ARENA explains its involvement on its website. "Hydrogen is the most common chemical element in the universe" and a "clean fuel" that burns to give water without emitting carbon dioxide. Producing it with clean renewable electricity gives it a pristine Green pedigree. It will make Australia a "renewable energy super power" and help decarbonise our economy. It will generate exportable clean products, replace natural gas and LNG, and be a major export earner. One readily senses why government is interested.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. 3
  5. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

7 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Dr Tom Biegler was a research electrochemist before becoming Chief of CSIRO Division of Mineral Chemistry. He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Tom Biegler

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Article Tools
Comment 7 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy