An Australian company commercialising a revolutionary new production process based on iron ore and methane could finally help hydrogen break through and become an economically viable solution for clean energy markets.
West Australian based company, Hazer Group, says their innovative process has the potential to become the worlds cheapest means of supplying global markets with hydrogen and high quality graphite – both key ingredients in the clean energy industry.
Using ultra-cheap unprocessed iron ore as a process catalyst, Hazer produces hydrogen from natural gas, however their process differs from traditional large-scale hydrogen production by capturing the carbon content of the natural gas as graphite, rather than it being converted into carbon dioxide.
This graphite is potentially a saleable product, giving the company two valuable products rather than just one and reducing the overall cost of the process.
With hydrogen tipped to become an important clean energy fuel, Managing Director of Hazer Group, Geoff Pocock, says their production process could further open up Australia to the global clean energy markets.
“Our ambition is to scale up our production process to a point where we can lower the costs and increase the availability of clean hydrogen globally. And with demand for cheap and clean hydrogen increasing, particularly from Japan, this would be fantastic for the Australian hydrogen sector” Mr Pocock said.
In April this year, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, called on ministers to step up efforts to “lead the world in making the hydrogen society come true”. He called for 40,000 fuel cell vehicles to be on the streets by the 2020 Olympics, and plans to spend $22 billion yen on hydrogen initiatives.(1)
“Obviously we would love to play a role here, and our vision is to have a cost effective solution for the fuel-cell vehicle refuelling market that aligns with Japan’s uptake over the coming years” Mr Pocock said.
As the ultimate clean-burning fuel, it’s almost certain hydrogen will play a key role in our energy future. But despite the growing need for hydrogen in the energy market, for now hydrogen production remains costly or carbon dioxide intensive.
“Currently the majority of the worlds hydrogen is produced by fossil fuel reformation processes, and comes with significant C02 emissions. These emissions to date have acted as a major barrier to hydrogen being used in the clean energy markets” Mr Pocock said.
“It’s like having a battery-powered vehicle, and then recharging it using coal-fired electricity production – you haven’t solved the problem”.
The other emerging process is electrolysis, a cleaner process that converts water into oxygen and hydrogen. But this approach also has issues, as Mr Pocock explains;
“While electrolysis is potentially emission free, the process requires an incredible amount of energy to produce hydrogen. There are also very significant capital costs involved, and these costs will limit the availability of this approach over the next decade”
Hazer’s technology, which only requires a feed of natural gas and iron-ore to produce hydrogen, aims to deliver an alternative solution to both existing and future hydrogen markets.
“Our goal is to significantly reduce the cost and emissions of current fossil fuel reformation production, and act as a potential process alternative in this US $100 billion global market” Mr Pocock said.
“And the low-emissions associated with our process offers a gateway to cleaner hydrogen for applications in the sustainable energy market – for clean electricity, fuel-cell powered vehicles and synthetic fuels.”
Mr Pocock said it’s impossible to estimate just how big the clean energy opportunity could be, but believes mass consumer adoption of Fuel Cell Vehicles in this market will come with the arrival of refuelling infrastructure.
“Australia has been incredibly slow to adopt hydrogen-fuelled vehicles despite other counties rolling out hydrogen related initiatives as they look for sustainable transport options”
“These initiatives mainly centre around hydrogen infrastructure being developed across Europe, Asia and the US, and we will hopefully see this scenario unfold here” Mr Pcocok said.
Unlike electric vehicles, hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles do not require a large shift in driving habits. A fuel cell vehicle provides the same convenience as a conventional car Mr Pocock says;
“There’s no significant battery charging downtime, and you can refuel it the same way as you would with existing vehicles.”
With a recent $7.0m capital rising under their belt, $5.0m of which came from $3billion dollar resources giant Mineral Resources Ltd, Mr Pocock says Hazer is now funded to realise the next stage of their hydrogen and graphite dream.
The strategic placement from Mineral Resources also accelerated Hazer’s vision of playing a significant role in the graphite market, as both companies agreed to enter into formal discussions towards the establishment of a JV to develop a commercial scale synthetic graphite plant.
Last month the company announced their ability to produce 99.95% ultra-high purity synthetic graphite, demonstrating the potential for their graphite to become a high-quality alternative for use in lithium-ion batteries.
Mr Pocock said the benefits of their graphite extend beyond cost and also centre on the potential co-location of future Hazer plants at suitable locations where graphite or hydrogen demand is high.
“The Hazer Process is inherently mobile, we are not tied to where a natural graphite deposit might be located. We could theoretically set up a high yielding synthetic graphic plant close to battery manufactures or anywhere that large quantities of graphite are required”
In mid-June, Townsville announced their bid to become the centre of the new energy revolution as the site for an international consortium to build one of the world’s biggest lithium-ion battery factories. (6)
The Great Barrier Reef tourism and mining centre has entered a six-month agreement with Boston Energy and Innovation, which it hopes will lead to a $US1.6 billion ($2.1bn) gigafactory built on council land by 2020.(6)
If successful, it would be one of the largest factory investments in Australia, capable of turning out one million home-energy storage units a year as renewable energy becomes increasingly mainstream.
Mr Pocock welcomes the initiative “This is an incredible proposal, and further highlights how Hazer sits in the sweet spot of the clean energy transition”
When asked if a Hazer plant could be erected on site to provide the graphite for batteries, Mr Pocock commented;
“Theoretically a Hazer plant could supply graphite on site as an alternative to importing the product, but we are a while away from that scale of production. Using fuel cell technology, the hydrogen produced from our process could also be harnessed to power battery manufacturing plants in this scenario.”
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4. GM, Honda to make hydrogen fuel cells at Michigan factory
5. General Motors – HYD
6. The Australian Business Review – Mining Energy – Bill Moss