29 Apr 2024

Powering ahead with green hydrogen

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 29 April 2024

Green hydrogen power is inching forward with more trial projects and research on the boil  


Crown research institute GNS Science is about to officially open its new green hydrogen lab in Lower Hutt.

One day it could contribute to making sure that small rural communities cut off by disaster can still power through, with stored green hydrogen used to establish a kind of micro-grid. 

Michelle Cook helps lead the work at GNS as an energy materials scientist. 

She describes what they're doing as "agnostic" - the lab is focusing on producing green hydrogen regardless of however it will be used. But it is involved with some end-use projects. 

GNS is working with a marae in the eastern Bay of Plenty, at the top of Te Urewera, and about 30 minutes out of Whakatane. 

"We are working with marae in the first instance, to see if they can capture their own solar energy for their electricity and then store it in hydrogen so that they're resilient .. they can generate, store and use energy all within their community, so that if they are cut off by say, flooding .... with climate change we're seeing more and more of these really significant weather events ... they'll know that they're always going to be able to have energy so that they can keep everyone warm and dry until help can come.

"At the moment they rely on a diesel generator as back-up but obviously as we saw after Cyclone Gabrielle sometimes it can be hard to access diesel to fuel those generators in a disaster situation." 

The work is currently at the investigation stage, and modelling should be finished in the next few months. 

Today on The Detail, Cook guides us through the basics of green hydrogen production and explains why this most abundant of earth's elements is a game-changer on the path to zero-carbon fuel. 

She also talks about the specific work being done at the new GNS Science lab, including ways to reduce the cost of processing it. 

It might be early days, but several organisations are making significant steps to help Aotearoa lead the way in developing green hydrogen.

Last week, Hiringa Energy opened a zero-emission green hydrogen vehicle refuelling network in South Auckland, Hamilton and Palmerston North - there's one more to open later in Tauranga. 

On the edge of the tarmac, Air New Zealand is aiming to lead the way in green hydrogen powered aircraft. 

It recently finished a trial at Wellington Airport, where for 10 days it powered its ground service equipment - such as baggage-movers.

"This was an easy way for us to get hydrogen airside," the company's senior sustainability manager Jacob Snelgrove tells The Detail.

"Doing that unlocks the next stage for us, which would be how would we do some hydrogen refuelling airside, which is where we need to get to if we are to have hydrogen powered aircraft operating."

Air New Zealand is working with manufacturers like Airbus to develop green hydrogen powered aircraft for its own domestic fleet. It hopes the aircraft will be available in the 2030s.

"Seeing the work Airbus has done and is doing has given us a real motivation to get New Zealand ready for those aircraft and try to lead the world in that respect," Snelgrove says.

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