Off-grid hydrogen box could replace diesel generators

Millions of diesel generators could switch off across Australia if work sites, councils and isolated communities opt for a new hydrogen “power bank”.

Governments may want to export hydrogen to Asia over the next decade but a Brisbane-based startup says it has technology ready to go now for local use by farms, mines and eco-tourism operators or remote mobile phone towers and water treatment plants.

“Where we’re focused is what I like to call small hydrogen,” Paul Sernia, boss of clean energy storage company Endua, told AAP.

The company on Tuesday unveiled the unique shipping container-sized system designed for remote locations, not city suburbs.

“We’re really looking off-grid, situations where there is no electricity grid and where people need to be independent,” he said.

Vast swathes of Australia have small populations at the end of very long distribution networks. Dependent on trucking in diesel and gas, communities can be vulnerable when severe weather events cut off supplies.

Even with renewable energy and battery storage installed, many use diesel generators as a fallback energy source.

Aiming for a 100 per cent renewable Australia, Endua wants to give people confidence energy will always be there, Mr Sernia said.

Backed by service station giant Ampol and new investors, Endua plans to target the off-grid diesel generator market that accounts for $1.5 billion of diesel and 200,000 tonnes of carbon emissions each year.

“In the box, we have an electrolyser at one end and a fuel cell at the other, and storage in the middle that’s connected to that,” Mr Sernia explained.

Using technology developed at CSIRO, the electrolyser takes renewable energy and splits water into hydrogen and oxygen.

As those chemical processes happen, the hydrogen sits within the self-contained system and acts like a battery.

The hydrogen is stored as a gas, as a form of energy storage, and when energy is required the hydrogen is run back through a fuel cell and turned into electricity.

“It’s like a diesel generator that refuels itself … it just tops up the tank,” Mr Sernia said.

And if it needs to be scaled up for bigger energy needs, there is no need to duplicate the box. Instead, the site can simply add more storage.

He said the hydrogen “power bank” can offer days of support while existing conventional lithium batteries can provide a couple of hours.

To commercialise the technology, Endua last month raised $11.8 million from the Queensland Investment Corporation and venture capital firms Melt Ventures, 77 Partners and Main Sequence.

“You think of the millions of diesel generators in regional areas and you can see the demand for power at this sort of local scale,” Mr Sernia added.


Marion Rae
(Australian Associated Press)


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