A new research consortium led by UNSW Sydney in partnership with the NSW Office of the Chief Scientist & Engineer (OCSE) will explore the use of excess renewable energy to power various infrastructural sectors in New South Wales.

The researchers will study the potential to grow a new industry that will use cheap excess renewable energy to make fuel, chemicals and feedstocks to power a range of infrastructure in the State. Led by Scientia Professor Rose Amal from the School of Chemical Engineering, the team will undertake a roadmap exercise, NSW Power-to-X (P2X) Industry Feasibility Study, which will assess and develop opportunities for decarbonisation and growing local manufacturing capabilities. The work will be carried out with the support of the OCSE.

P2X refers to energy conversion technologies that can store power surpluses from renewable energy sources such as chemical energy. P2X technologies can be used to produce clean fuels and chemicals such as hydrogen, ammonia, methane and many other derivatives, and is far less capital intensive than alternatives such as battery storage.

Production of hydrogen via electrolysis of water is at the heart of most P2X processes; this hydrogen can be used directly as a final product or to produce other clean fuels and chemicals through secondary conversion technologies.

A leading authority in the fields of fine particle technology, photocatalysis and functional nanomaterials (all integral to P2X technologies), Amal explains, “NSW has untapped renewable energy potential that presents excellent opportunities to build a P2X industry at scale – to meet domestic and export demand for green energy. P2X offers opportunities for deep decarbonisation for hard-to-abate industries, regional development and investment attraction, as well as exporting renewable energy to overseas markets via hydrogen carriers.”

“Countries such as Germany, Japan and South Korea are already seeking partners and locations in Australia for renewable hydrogen production to export to their respective countries. NSW has all the ingredients required for a future hydrogen economy and a rare opportunity to lead the P2X development,” she said.

However, urgent action is needed now in terms of investment in technology and building capabilities to ensure Australia can capture this enormous opportunity, Amal added.

The NSW Government identified hydrogen as a priority technology to decarbonise industries, create jobs and grow the economy in its Decarbonisation Innovation Study 2019 and Industry Opportunities: Enabled by Cheap, Clean and Reliable Electricity under the NSW Electricity Infrastructure Investment Roadmap 2020. 

NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer Hugh Durrant-Whyte says a P2X industry would accelerate the hydrogen economy in NSW, creating substantial economic value and environmental benefits. There is a growing market for P2X products across the world; in NSW, transport, electricity and gas industries are actively exploring P2X solutions to decarbonise processes.

“A local P2X industry could play a major role in NSW’s target of net zero emissions by 2050 and create hundreds of jobs. We need immediate, targeted and coordinated investment in these technologies to meet our economic and moral obligations to decarbonise. I look forward to the outcomes of this project under Prof. Amal’s leadership, which will help us to understand the next steps to realise this goal.”

The research consortium will include a core team of investigators from UNSW Sydney, University of Newcastle, University of Wollongong, University of Sydney and CSIRO.

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