The green hydrogen economy and water stewardship

Effective water management is vital for green hydrogen production. The concept of water stewardship is essential in developing green hydrogen projects across Australia.

Effective water management is vital for green hydrogen production. The concept of water stewardship is essential in developing green hydrogen projects across Australia.

Australia is working to establish itself as a global net-zero energy economy leader. One of the key growth areas for clean energy in Australia is the development of a green hydrogen export market. Australia is expected to become the second largest exporter of Green Hydrogen by 2050, according to the Australian Trade and Investment Commission (AusTrade). The Hydroflux Group, along with Cress Consulting, can support businesses looking to get involved in the green hydrogen industry with high-quality advice and technology.

As part of this development, demand is expected to be generated for purified fresh water, a critical raw material in the production of green hydrogen. Despite this demand, green hydrogen water consumption is less than that required for fossil fuels. Researchers from the University of Delaware found that the amount of water used to generate any form of energy is dwarfed by the freshwater demands from agriculture.

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency’s (ARENA) forecast for Australian hydrogen production of three million tonnes per annum by 2040 would require about 27 million cubic metres of demineralised water for raw material supply. Depending on the specific project water efficiencies, an additional 100 to 300 million cubic metres could be required to operate the high-purity water make-up and electrolysis cooling systems. This equates to one and four per cent of Australia’s current total 8.6 billion cubic metres of annual freshwater withdrawal.

Where’s the freshwater for this industry?

One issue with this claim, particularly for Australia, is the availability of freshwater local to the proposed hydrogen production facility. For hydrogen projects to proceed, an essential investment requirement will be the availability of secure off-take agreements for water.

Water resources are expected to shrink over the next century. As such, new hydrogen production facilities may compete with communities and existing traditional industries, like agriculture, for fresh water. Projects must have clear strategies for equitable and sustainable management of local water resources to receive community support.

What is water stewardship?

This poses many challenges for the development of green hydrogen production facilities. It is also an opportunity for the hydrogen industry to positively impact global water supplies rather than a negligible yet negative effect. This can be done through a water stewardship mindset. This mindset will allow projects to be tailored to expand their capabilities with shared benefits for all water users, ensuring that water use is socially and culturally equitable.

The issue around equitable water access not only applies to fresh water but also to recycled wastewater. Recycled wastewater has been highlighted as a potential alternative source to minimise freshwater demands for green hydrogen production.

In many rural and remote areas of Australia, treated wastewater irrigation has been standard practice for decades. Communities and local agriculture rely on the availability of recycled water to supplement already dwindling freshwater supplies. New hydrogen production facilities would again compete with communities and existing industries for this recycled water.

One suggestion is the shifting of thinking within the hydrogen industry. Ideally, hydrogen production facilities would shift from being significant water consumers to becoming water stewards within their local communities. By taking this path, this industry can lead global exports and play a defining role in the worldwide transition to net zero-carbon energy. It can also set the bar for how the energy industry can engage with stakeholders around sustainable water resource management.

How water stewardship fits in

Water stewardship will enable the hydrogen industry to improve water efficiency within their facilities. It can also work collectively with other industries in Australia to understand and address complex shared-water challenges, risks and opportunities in the catchment area.

Several low-cost opportunities exist within hydrogen production projects to provide more equitable and sustainable access to water for regional and remote communities and industries.

Some examples of water stewardship include more efficient drinking water technology for the local community. This can form part of the hydrogen project to improve water access. The advanced technology used to purify electrolyser makeup is similar to those used to produce clean drinking water. This consideration provides community benefits for minimal additional project costs.

Reusing electrolyser cooling water for other purposes will improve the industry’s green credentials. It will allow for sharing water allocations, which helps address water scarcity challenges. This is particularly true when water is needed for irrigation or other industrial purposes.

Chemical-free processes such as NX’s direct nanofiltration for pre-treatment of demineralised water increase the amount of water drawn from the environment. This technology can return that water back into its system while improving the overall water quality.

There are always opportunities to implement a range of community water projects with economic and social significance. That includes improving the efficiency of existing water assets to offset the use of water by the hydrogen production facility. One example would be upgrading sewage treatment plants and stormwater harvesting systems.

The role of the community in water stewardship cannot be forgotten. Integrating the community into the development of hydrogen production water infrastructure can increase the economic efficiency of the assets. This is done by reducing ownership costs and providing opportunities for community employment and upskilling.

How does Hydroflux fit in?

The Hydroflux Group is placed to support the Australian hydrogen industry. By understanding consumers’ water use, risks, impacts and opportunities, Cress Consulting can facilitate developing and implementing a Water Stewardship plan to optimise the efficiency of water production, use, reuse and return to the environment in an efficient and equitable Green Hydrogen project.

Hydroflux can ensure a more sustainable Green Hydrogen project can be developed. It has access to world-class, advanced treatment technologies such as NX direct hollow fiber membranes. This technology is based on unique recipes and innovative patented production methods. The base material for the membranes is PolyEtherSulfone (PES). It provides ideal chemical and thermal stability for use in robust filtration processes.

A Water Stewardship plan should consider the water-related challenges of relevant stakeholders and work to ensure that water usage is sustainable and equitable. That approach will result in a better hydrogen production outlook, with lower risks to water quality and quantity for the facility’s life.

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