Ampol backs hydrogen storage start-up

Petrol and diesel supplier Ampol is the “secret ingredient” in a green hydrogen energy start-up that will target the $1.5 billion a year remote diesel power generation market offering the potential for reliable energy that is clean and affordable.

Ampol is taking a 20 per cent stake in CSIRO-backed Endua and is the commercial partner for the venture, which is developing renewables-based hydrogen power units that could be used at mines, farms and residential communities that are not connected to the grid.

The global challenge of making affordable renewable energy available at any time of the day to anybody was still to be solved and was the key driver for Endua, said chief executive Paul Sernia, who has top-notch credentials in the sector as a co-founder of electric vehicle fast-charging technology success story Tritium.

“Initially we are targeting that off-grid diesel generator space because there is a really big need there. There is about $1.5 billion spent on diesel to generate power in Australia alone and that’s putting 200,000 tonnes of carbon emissions into the air,” Mr Sernia told The Australian Financial Review.

“So it’s a billion-dollar opportunity and there’s a big problem to solve.”

Endua is a child of the “venture science” model of business creation pioneered by the CSIRO’s technology and science investment fund Main Sequence Ventures which has already given rise to plant-based meat champion v2food backed by Rich lister Jack Cowin and space start-up Quasar.

The model starts with identifying a major challenge that offers a commercial opportunity to be solved, then assembling the science capability to tackle it from CSIRO, and introducing a pathway to market through a leading industry player which is involved from the start. Venture investment is injected by Main Sequence.

Secret ingredient

“The real secret ingredient in venture science is that we also brought on board an industry partner, which in this case is Ampol,” said Martin Duursma, a partner at Main Sequence.

He pointed to CSIRO’s 15 years of history in world-leading electrolyser technology that would help Endua grasp the commercial opportunity presented by the increasing need to store distributed renewable energy and the trend towards microgrids in remote communities that currently rely on diesel as back-up.

Ampol’s involvement was noted in the fuels supplier’s decarbonisation strategy which it unveiled last month but which did not then identify the company, describing it as “an early-stage Australian developer of hydrogen-based microgeneration and storage technology”.

Ampol chief executive Matt Halliday said Endua fitted well with Ampol’s strategy of developing low-emission alternatives for customers, pointing to the company’s involvement in remote power generation through its commercial diesel sales.

“We think this technology and our partners are very exciting, and ultimately it’s a technology that potentially has application well beyond off-grid power generation,” Mr Halliday said.

“Clean energy storage that is hydrogen-powered has great potential as the costs continue to come down.”

Ampol’s 20 per cent stake will be paid for in kind through “sweat equity”, where it provides its expertise and customer access to the venture, as well as its Coopers Plains facility south of Brisbane to be Endua’s base. It expects to invest down the track as Endua develops its commercial product.

Envisaged somewhere between the size of a large cabinet and a small shipping container depending on its size and application, an Endua unit would act as a “power bank”, using renewable energy available on-site to power an electrolysis process to create green hydrogen, then store it until it was required and could be delivered as clean electricity.

A single pack could drive a power load of up to 150 kilowatts, enough to power a water pump, farm shed or standalone telecom infrastructure, with units able to be sized up using a modular structure as required.

The CSIRO last month launched a “hydrogen industry mission” to support the development of hydrogen as part of Australia’s transition to low-carbon energy.

“By providing innovation and research support for commercialisation, our goal is to fast-track the deployment of emerging home-grown technologies as we are doing here with Endua and Ampol, and to ultimately enable Australia’s transition to a low-emissions future,” said CSIRO CEO Larry Marshall.

Extracted from AFR

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