Monash University researchers and national water utility companies are determining ways to produce hydrogen energy more sustainably by repurposing wastewater, via the Sustainable Hydrogen Production from Used Water project.
The project recently received an ARC Linkage grant and aims to address water scarcity in the hydrogen production process, as 5.5 billion litres of water is required annually to achieve Australia’s hydrogen production target. This target was proposed in the National Hydrogen Strategy for the estimated 2030 export market.
Monash University’s researchers on the project are developing a way to repurpose wastewater as the feed for hydrogen production through water electrolysis – using electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.
Professor Xiwang Zhang, Professor Huanting Wang and Dr Yinlong Zhu from Monash University’s Department of Chemical Engineering will advance the practical applications of water electrolysis for scalable and sustainable hydrogen production.
The Sustainable Hydrogen Production from Used Water project is an opportunity to minimise freshwater consumption and use the large amounts of wastewater generated in Australia’s major capital cities.
“The amount of wastewater currently available for use is far more than the amount of water required in water electrolysis for hydrogen production,” Chemical Engineering professor and director of the ARC Research Hub for Energy-efficient Separation Xiwang Zhang said.
“Most of the treated water throughout Australia is currently discharged to surrounding water bodies or recycled for irrigation after being treated in centralised municipal wastewater treatment plants. Given the volume of the treated water from these plants is highly consistent, it is a promising water source for water electrolysis.”
The researchers will collaborate with national water utility companies including Southeast Water, Melbourne Water, Yarra Valley Water and Water Corporation, through Water Research Australia (WaterRA).
“With our expertise in water electrolysis, membranes and water treatment, we are pleased to have this opportunity to work with our industry partners to contribute to the development of renewable hydrogen technology using recycled water,” Monash Centre for Membrane Innovation director and Australian Laureate Fellow Professor Huanting Wang said.
Although most pollutants in wastewater are removed in the current wastewater treatment processes, small amounts of impurities remain, like residual organics and ions.
“There still remains a knowledge gap in how the impurities affect water electrolyser design and process operation,” WaterRA partner investigator Dr Arash Zamyadi said.
“Through this research, we hope to develop an in-depth understanding of the impacts of water impurities in used water on the performance and durability of water electrolysers; and subsequently develop guidelines for the design of highly durable water electrolysers and the operation and upgrade of existing wastewater treatment plants.”
This project’s findings will contribute to the global hydrogen export market. The demand for hydrogen exported from Australia is tipped to be over 3 million tonnes each year by 2040, resulting in up to $10 billion per year for the Australian economy.