Cheung Kong-backed gas firm tests novel storage tech

Australian Gas Networks is looking to turn renewable energy into hydrogen and store it in its gas grid in a bid to decarbonise its natural gas network.

Australian Gas Networks will build the first pilot plant to trial a process known as “power-to-gas”, which involves using electricity to split water into oxygen and hydrogen, then injecting the latter into south Australia’s natural gas network.  

The technology could provide long-term energy storage and stabilisation of intermittent solar and wind power, as well as making use of excess and unwanted wind power, according to Cheung Kong Infrastructure-backed AGN, the country’s largest gas distribution business, formerly known as Envestra. 

“Producing hydrogen from water using renewable energy and electrolysis technology has enormous potential in the global energy market,” said Andrew Staniford, chief customer officer of AGN. “The pilot plant will show how the natural gas networks can be decarbonised and how renewable energy can be used efficiently.”

“The volumetric capacity of renewable energy stored in Australian gas infrastructure is equivalent to as much as six billion household Li-ion batteries,” he added.

The investment follows A$5 million ($3.94 million; €3.35 million) in funding from the government’s Australian Renewable Energy Agency to AquaHyrex, a Wollongong-based tech firm, to commercially develop a prototype electrolyser to produce hydrogen from water, AGN said. The firm will team up with AguaHydrex to design and build the plant at Kidman Park, in Adelaide’s western suburb, with hydrogen production scheduled to start late next year. 

AGN aims to see excess renewable energy stored in the gas grid through this programme, as the first step to achieve a zero-emissions gas network. 

A consortium formed by Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing’s Cheung Kong Infrastructure and two affiliate companies acquired and de-listed the gas distributor in October 2014. AGN owns approximately 25,000km of natural gas distribution networks and 1,100km of transmission pipelines, with main services areas in south Australia, Victoria and Queensland.