Australian company rolls out hydrogen-based energy storage
Product has three times the capacity of equivalent Powerwall
It’s about the size of Tesla Inc.’s Powerwall, but can store up to three times as much energy over a longer period.
That’s the promise of a new hydrogen-based energy-storage system for homes and businesses being developed by Australian startup Lavo Hydrogen Technology Ltd. The technology, developed with scientists at the University of New South Wales, uses power from rooftop solar panels to produce hydrogen from water by electrolysis. The gas is stored in a metal hydride container and converted back into electricity when needed using a fuel cell.
Australia’s world-beating rooftop-solar take-up rates make it an ideal early market, said Lavo Chief Executive Officer Alan Yu. The unit will go on sale from November, with installations starting in June 2021, subject to final approvals. The company plans to sell 10,000 units a year by 2022.
“Our mission is to try and change the way people live with energy,” Yu said in a phone interview.
Companies and governments are plowing billions of dollars into hydrogen as a potential cleaner alternative to fossil fuels such as natural gas. Still, commercial application of the fuel for use in heavy transportation and industrial processes such as steel-making is still seen as several years away.
At about triple the price of a Powerwall, the Lavo unit’s main selling point will be its ability to store more energy for longer. Each system will initially cost A$34,750 ($24,620) and will be able to hold 40 kilowatt-hours of power — enough to supply an average household for more than two days, according to the company. Tesla’s Powerwall holds about 13.5 kilowatt-hours.
Tesla founder Elon Musk has been critical of moves to develop hydrogen-powered cars, which compete with his own electric vehicles, arguing that hydrogen storage can never be as efficient as a lithium-ion battery. And investors are wary about bold claims for new hydrogen technology after startup Nikola Corp. was accused of misleading statements about its zero-emission trucks.
“Getting from laboratory to commercial-scale deployment is incredibly difficult,” said Jake Whitehead, fellow at the University of Queensland, whose research has examined the challenges of storing hydrogen on a large scale. He said electrolyzers need a lot of power and suggested that many household solar arrays may not generate enough electricity to run the system efficiently.
Lavo’s Yu acknowledged that the higher cost of the system might initially limit interest to energy-technology enthusiasts initially, but he also sees it as a solution for small off-grid rural villages to replace diesel generators or a compact solution for communities and homes cut off from the main grid by natural disasters such as bushfires.