Professor Aguey Zinsou holds up the metal materials that could store hydrogen in a solid-state. (Image Credit: Janie Barrett)

 

Using low-cost hydrogen storage to power homes and businesses may soon become a reality if new technology makes a quick transition from the lab. Researchers at the University of NSW in Australia have developed metal alloys that can store excess electricity in the form of hydrogen at a less costly price than lithium batteries.

 

"You can call me an alchemist if you will," Professor Aguey-Zinsou said, laughing. "It is a game-changer in how we use electricity - it's like the internet revolution." For the past 20 years, Aguey-Zinsou focused on developing the metal hydrides that are capable of bonding with hydrogen.

 

The system utilizes power to produce hydrogen, which is then stored for later use to create electricity via a fuel cell. According to professor Aguey-Zinsou, the metal alloy consists of titanium and other common materials, which are unknown, pending patent-approval within weeks. 

 

The solid-state mix is capable of operating in temperatures ranging from -10 degrees Celsius to 50 degrees Celsius, which mainly depends on the climate the storage will be used in.

 

Recently, hydrogen has emerged as a potential replacement for fossil fuels. Late last year, the Morrison government started up a National Hydrogen Strategy to identify break-even points required to replace gas and petrol.

 

Providence Asset Group granted a $10 million fund to UNSW's Hydrogen Energy Research Centre to develop the world's first hydrogen batteries in early 2021, which will be used in households. These hydrogen batteries could store up to 60 kilowatt-hours, or around five times the capacity of current lithium storage available on the market. A single storage measures 130 centimeters tall, weighing 196 kilograms.

 

"We aim to launch the LAVO [brand] commercial product by the end of this year, and start pilot production in the first quarter of next year," Alan Yu, a co-founder of Providence, said, also stating that they will be producing the batteries in Australia.

 

"It's cheaper and cleaner than buying from the grid," Mr. Yu said. "This will help households to accelerate the clean energy transition in Australia and save money."

 

It could potentially cost as low as 2 cents per kW-hour, or less than one-tenth the cost of lithium and buying power from the grid, which makes the storage very competitive. Converting electricity to hydrogen and back would "multiply the inefficiencies," and rapid take-up of the product shouldn't be expected.

 

Yu's company hopes to add hydrogen storage for its five-megawatt community-owned solar farm, which is planned for Manilla, near Tamsworth in Northern NSW.  The goal is to store around eight hours' worth of electricity in the batteries, allowing nearby users to completely move off the grid. The aim is to create dozens of these solar farms, backed up by wind and storage, in the next few years.

 

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