The future of gas is looking green, and that future is getting closer by the day. Here we shine a light on what large scale hydrogen and biogas projects our nation is investing in, and the top countries we’re looking to for inspiration.
Firstly, why are we investing in green gas?
New Zealand and much of the world is dedicated to a net carbon zero 2050. Part of this means transitioning from current gas to future renewable gases that will be better for our planet and future generations.
Our current gas supply of natural gas and LPG are non-renewable, as they drill into our earth and release CO2. Hydrogen and biogas on the other hand are two renewable gases; hydrogen gas is made by splitting water, and biogas is made from a range of sources such as decomposing plant matter, animal or human waste and landfills.
We understand the solutions that are needed. The trick now is setting up sustainable systems to make these gases and distribute them on a big scale, so that homes and businesses can experience a smooth transition to green.
What’s happening right here and in the rest of the world?
As of August 2021, there were more than 350 large scale global projects underway, and a projected total investment of around $500billion into hydrogen research, ventures, pilots and projects.
As a small nation, New Zealand has the advantage of benefiting from big investments overseas, by adopting the technological advancements of counties with bigger scale such as Australia, UK, Japan and Germany, to name a few in this fast-moving space.
What’s New Zealand up to with hydrogen research?
GNS Science is New Zealand’s Crown Research Institute who are looking at how we can make hydrogen gas on a big scale more efficient and cheaper to produce.
Callaghan Innovation have a hydrogen pilot, with a solar and wind-based electrolyser (the machine that splits water into hydrogen) running their gas hot water, cooker, stove and BBQ.
One particularly exciting collaboration project is in a recently funded venture by MBIE and the German government, on a Green Hydrogen Research Centre in Otago. Pulling together universities, Crown Research Institutes, the MacDiarmid Institute, Ara Ake, and Callaghan Innovation, they’ve created a national Team Green Hydrogen that will partner with German researchers and industries. This will allow researchers from across New Zealand to access some cutting-edge technology developed by the international researchers and help to build pathways for the adoption of green hydrogen.
Where’s New Zealand at with hydrogen plants?
One of the world’s biggest green hydrogen plants is being planned for right here in Southland. It’s a venture between Meridian Energy and Contact Energy, and four potential shortlisted partners (as of February 2022). It’s called Southern Green Hydrogen, and it will harness Aotearoa’s renewable energy resources to decarbonise our country and export overseas.
Our country’s first green hydrogen plant however is already in production in Taupo. Opened December 2021, it was established by Halcyon Power and is a 50/50 venture between Tuaropaki Trust and Obayashi Corporation of Japan. It uses geothermal power to electrolyse water into green hydrogen, and it will be used to wholesale hydrogen and eventually complete the supply chain from storage to fuel stations.
Taranaki is another hotspot for hydrogen generation. Hiringa Energy already has plans for making and then distributing hydrogen through fuelling stations around the country (read more on green gas for transport). They’re also partnering with Ballance AgriNutrients to develop a $60million hydrogen and ammonia project, powered by wind turbines. The green hydrogen will be used to make 7,000 tonnes of urea each year, replacing imported urea made from fossil fuels.
What about New Zealand and biogas?A report by First Gas Group has estimated that New Zealand has the potential to produce enough renewable gas to supply all our residential and three quarters of our commercial users. Anaerobic digestion is one avenue. It breaks down organic waste from kitchens and farms into biogas, treats and upgrades it into biomethane which can go into our existing pipelines.
First Gas is working on a groundbreaking project near Rotorua to do just that. They’re on track to start turning 75,000 tonnes of organic waste into enough renewable gas to supply around 9,000 households a year. The CO2 from the process will go into a nearby glasshouse where it helps to grow food.
The project is a great example of a low carbon circular economy in action and is a great step towards a renewable gas future.
What can we learn from Australia’s hydrogen projects?
Australia has been trialing and testing hydrogen longer than we have, including the Western Sydney Green Gas Project (started 2018) and the Hydrogen Park South Australia (started 2020), which look at generation, storage and blending in pipelines.
Coming up, Australia will launch the world’s first dual-fuel or hybrid power plant for electricity generation in 2023. This will combine natural gas and hydrogen to green up their power generation on peak demand, times when other renewable energies (solar and wind) aren’t enough.
Why are we looking to the UK for hydrogen ideas?
The UK has some exciting hydrogen home demos happening, which you can read more about in our home-specific Spotlight article.
Where is Germany at with green gas?
Germany is investing heavily in the hydrogen space. We can’t go into every project everywhere, but it’s interesting to see where boundaries are being pushed.
Researchers in Ulm have figured out a way to make solar energy in the dark. The reason this is huge for green hydrogen energy, is that to split hydrogen in an electrolyser you need solar or wind. Now generation can happen at any time and place using what they call a ‘single molecule catalyst’, a molecular photochemical system. They can even store the light energy to create hydrogen on demand and in the dark. Genius.
How is Japan a leader in hydrogen?
Japan wants to be a hydrogen society. And although a lot of their hydrogen isn’t made from renewable solar and wind yet to make it green, that’s where they’re headed.
The city of Kobe is using hydrogen to create heat and electricity for hospitals and trains. Tokyo runs a fleet of hydrogen fuelled city buses, and just outside Tokyo is the world’s first hydrogen powered hotel.
They have the most hydrogen fuelling stations in the world, and although the uptake on vehicles isn’t there yet, the country is clearly invested in diversifying their energy sources. As Japan is resource-poor, they’re excited that hydrogen can be transported from anywhere, unlike electricity.
How will green gas projects affect today’s Kiwis at home?
Understanding the investment that’s going into making clean hydrogen gas a reality, helps us at home realise that gas is sticking around. The concept of transitioning our pipelines to green isn’t just theoretical, it’s starting to be put into practice. It’s reassuring to know the way it’s all headed.