University of Canterbury engineering researchers are developing a carbon-neutral – even carbon-negative – way to create clean ‘green’ hydrogen to power our world more sustainably.
University of Canterbury Chemical and Process Engineering academics Professor Shusheng Pang and Associate Professor Alex Yip are focusing on using renewable biomass – such as tree and plant waste from New Zealand’s forestry and agriculture sectors – to make green hydrogen. This clean energy source can be used to replace fossil fuels, including coal and natural gas, for transport, industry use, and heating our homes.
Professor Pang, who has a background in wood science and technology, explains: “One of our current projects is working on converting biomass into hydrogen. Hydrogen is clean energy with huge potential for creating a more sustainable future, however 95% of the hydrogen currently used in the world comes from fossil fuels.
“To replace these fossil fuels, derived green hydrogen requires multiple, renewable resources. New Zealand’s forestry industry is well positioned to meet this biomass demand. Currently New Zealand harvests 36 million cubic metres of logs annually and only 40% is processed within New Zealand, with the remaining 60% exported as raw logs. We can use biowaste from forest harvesting and wood processing, as well as low quality logs, for the value-added green hydrogen,” Professor Pang says.
“Working with Hot Lime Labs, a new starting company in Lower Hutt, we also capture CO2 (greenhouse gas carbon dioxide) to make the whole process carbon-negative. We develop new catalysts – which is Alex’s expertise – to make the process more efficient.”
Carbon dioxide captured from this process could be used in plant greenhouses, fertiliser manufacturing and methanol or ethanol production.
Associate Professor Yip says, “We are using a unique approach based on new technology in catalysis to simultaneously generate high-purity hydrogen and enable CO2 capture. The overall process ‘unlocks’ the potential of using New Zealand biomass, such as trees, plants, and other renewable resources, which are abundant here.
“None of the currently used production methods in New Zealand can provide enough hydrogen to meet the country’s demand singlehandedly. So, New Zealand needs our approach of generating bio-hydrogen from a renewable resource – tree and plant waste.”