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Hydrogen energy demands could be met with wastewater

Sustainable hydrogen energy production requires abundant renewable energy and a consistent water supply and one Monash University research team has set its sights on finding ways to support future water demands for hydrogen markets by repurposing wastewater.

Recently receiving an ARC Linkage grant, the Sustainable Hydrogen Production from Used Water Project aims to address the challenge of water scarcity in the process of hydrogen production by repurposing wastewater through electrolysis.

Monash University Department of Chemical Engineering researchers, Professor Xiwang Zhang, Professor Huanting Wang and Dr Yinlong Zhu, will be investigating how to advance the practical applications of water electrolysis for scalable and sustainable hydrogen production to support Australia’s position in the emerging global hydrogen economy.

Chemical Engineering Professor and Director of the ARC Research Hub for Energy-efficient Separation Xiwang Zhang said this project will help to reduce freshwater consumption by using wastewater generated in Australia’s 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,” 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.”

t least 5.5 billion litres of water is needed annually to achieve the hydrogen production target proposed in Australia's National Hydrogen Strategy for the estimated 2030 export market, but utilising wastewater effectively offers a promising source for production.

Collaborating with water utilities to produce hydrogen energy

The research team will be working closely with water utility companies South East Water, Melbourne Water, Yarra Valley Water and Water Corporation, through Water Research Australia (WaterRA).

Australian Laureate Fellow and Director of Monash Centre for Membrane Innovation Professor Huanting Wang said: “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”.

WaterRA Partner Investigator Dr Arash Zamyadi said  although the majority of pollutants in wastewater have been effectively removed in the current wastewater treatment processes, small amounts of residual organics and ions remain, creating application barriers.

“There still remains a knowledge gap in how the impurities affect water electrolyser design and process operation,” 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.”

With demand for hydrogen exported from Australia by 2040 expected to be more than three million tonnes each year, resulting in around $10 billion each year for the Australian economy, the project has the potential to contribute significantly to supporting global clean energy markets.

Repurposing wastewater could support those future demands for hydrogen energy.