research / Journal publications

Quantification of fresh water consumption and scarcity footprints of hydrogen from water electrolysis: A methodology framework

March 10 2020

Australia aims to be a major global player in the hydrogen market by 2030. Hydrogen exports – particularly to East Asian economies such as China – are expected to substitute coal and natural gas exports, thereby sustaining the Australian economy. Using a comprehensive new methodology, the authors estimate the respective life-cycle water consumption of three hydrogen production technologies – grid electricity, solar and wind powered  – as well as the distribution of water consumption across Australia, China and the rest of the world. This includes both direct consumption during operation and indirect consumption embodied in material, equipment and waste disposals. The study finds that Australia’s hydrogen production will consume more water than existing studies assume, and that water consumption varies widely among the three technologies. Two-thirds of such water consumption could occur in other countries. In particular, more water will be consumed in China than in Australia in the case of solar-powered hydrogen production, because photo-voltaic modules (for which manufacture is water-intensive) are produced mainly in China. China’s water-scarcity therefore holds implications for the technology mix underlying Australia’s hydrogen production, highlighting the linkage between the Australian and Chinese economies from not only a commercial but also environmental perspective.

Read the article online here.

Note: This article was published in Renewable Energy, Volume 154, July 2020, 786-796.

Author: Xunpeng Shi, Principal Research Fellow, Australia-China Relations Institute, University of Technology Sydney