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UNSW Hydrogen Energy Research Centre to play key role in Australia’s energy transition

By June 28, 2020 3   min read  (581 words)

June 28, 2020 |

UNSW Sydney and Providence Asset Group (PAG) have launched a first of its kind university-industry partnership in hydrogen technologies, whose goal is to translate leading university research into real-world, commercial products.

UNSW and PAG have founded the Hydrogen Energy Research Centre (HERC) to support Australia’s vision to become a major player in the global hydrogen market. In its National Hydrogen Strategy published November 2019, the federal government states its ambition for annual hydrogen exports to reach $10 billion by 2040.

UNSW Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research, Professor Nicholas Fisk said: “Australia has a huge competitive advantage over other countries in implementing hydrogen for green energy storage, and UNSW has major capability through its talented investigators, research and development, and patent-protected intellectual property.

“Together with Providence, HERC is set to integrate electrolysis, storage and fuel cells, to translate for both domestic and export markets.”

UNSW Engineering Professor Kondo-Francois Aguey-Zinsou, an expert in hydrogen storage technologies, will lead the new centre, in which industry participation will be integral for translating new hydrogen technologies into commercial production.

Prof. Aguey-Zinsou said: “Universities are very good at fundamental research but traditionally have not been so good at developing products through to market launch. HERC will build a full innovation ecosystem – where we have industry partners deeply engaged with research academics at every step of the way – to generate commercial outcomes.”

UNSW produces world-leading research in hydrogen production, storage and use. Its specialties include fuel cell technologies, power conversion, advanced manufacturing, recycling and electronics. HERC will combine this expert knowledge with industry partners in a new ecosystem that will include:

  • an applied research and development, prototyping and testing lab – to promote agile product development and support global clients in their transition to using hydrogen products;
  • a production hub aimed at increasing the uptake of hydrogen products – including small-scale manufacturing, testing, certification, and validation infrastructure;
  • an experience centre – to engage investors, customers and partners, and a training facility to upskill the workforce.

Prof. Aguey-Zinsou is confident that with involvement and co-investment from industry, HERC will overcome some of the biggest hurdles in taking hydrogen products to market.

“The problem in Australia is we lack the deep expertise needed in consulting firms and industry to advise on the best hydrogen technologies to pursue – not only in terms of quality and product life but also accurate financial modelling to secure capital investment. HERC’s ecosystem of expertise will overcome these barriers to commercialisation and ensure greater market uptake of hydrogen products.

“It’s not just about making hydrogen per se, it’s about changing the entire economy.”

The new HERC facilities will be established at UNSW over the next seven years with the help of an initial $5 million investment from PAG. The partners believe they can develop hydrogen energy storage and distribution solutions capable of meeting much of Australia’s power needs through renewable energy by 2030. And under this new innovation ecosystem model they already have an early win.

Lavo Hydrogen Storage Technology Pty Ltd, a spin out company based on UNSW intellectual property, has its first commercial product expected to go to market in late 2020. LAVO™ is a residential hydrogen energy storage system that can hold up to 60kWh of electricity – enough energy to power an average Australian household for three days.

CEO of PAG, Henry Sun, said hydrogen technology has matured, the cost of renewables has fallen more quickly than predicted, and there is unprecedented political support. He said the timing is now right to capture the hydrogen opportunity for all Australians.

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