Future fuels for Australia’s energy supply mix

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In 2017, a partnership of over 50 companies, six universities, the energy market operator and two regulators applied for the Australian Government’s business-research collaborations funding as part of its Cooperative Research Centres Programme to establish the Future Fuels CRC.

The Future Fuels Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) will support Australia’s multi-billion dollar energy industry to transition to clean fuels for Australia’s electricity, transport, agriculture, mining, building and industrial sectors.

The CRC will create the technology and skills to produce, store and deliver clean, reliable, secure and affordable future energy delivered through new and repurposed infrastructure.

Here, Chief Executive Officer of the Future Fuels CRC, David Norman, talks about the country’s energy transition and how the proposed CRC will help support a move towards decarbonised fuel.

The future of clean fuels not a pipe dream

Improving the long-term security of the gas and pipeline network will continue to be a major priority as Australia transitions to a low emission energy future.

Australia’s gas pipeline infrastructure currently serves five million homes and 130,000 businesses.

Mr Norman said Australia’s pipeline infrastructure already delivers a range of fuels and fluids, including natural gas, oil, LPG and condensates, as well as other chemicals and fluids, including carbon dioxide and water, but now research will also focus on new fuels.

“As part of the energy transition, the challenge is increasingly, how to progressively support decarbonisation efforts in the medium to longer term,” Mr Norman said.

Moving forward, the aim is for clean fuels, such as biogas and hydrogen, to be delivered through both new and repurposed infrastructure to meet the needs of the whole energy market – electricity, transport, agriculture, mining, building, industrial and residential sectors.

“The ongoing objective of all existing networks is to maintain the highest levels of safety and reliability, and these objectives would remain as we consider new blends and new types of fuels,” Mr Norman said.

A collaborative approach

The Future Fuels CRC has support from over 50 company members of the Australian Pipelines and Gas Association, Energy Networks Australia, six of Australia’s top universities and state regulators from South Australia and Victoria, and the Australian Energy Market Operator Participating universities include RMIT University, Deakin University, University of Wollongong, University of Adelaide, University of Queensland and University of Melbourne.

“A unique coalition of partners has been created from industry, academia and regulatory representatives. This provides breadth and diversity across the broad value chain, from fuels generation through transportation and ultimately delivery to customers,” Mr Norman said.

The CRC will provide organisations with an opportunity to pool resources and relevant skills using proven models for collaboration to create new technologies to inform future infrastructure decisions.

It will also provide an opportunity to reduce the carbon intensity of energy consumed by Australian businesses, industry and households.

“Australia has incredible resources and potential available through stronger collaboration between researchers and industry. We are proud to be working through the CRC mechanism as a means to foster engagement, innovation and collaboration for the future benefit of all involved, not only in our industry, but across the broader community,” Mr Norman said.

Chief Executive Officer of the Future Fuels CRC, David Norman.

Practical implementations

The Future Fuels CRC will undertake three research programs to support the implementation of future fuels, and build new technical and managerial capacity in the energy industry.

Mr Norman said, “The Future Fuels CRC research programs will focus on what are the potential fuels of the future in the energy supply mix, and how new and existing infrastructure can safely and reliably deliver on behalf of Australia’s residential, industrial and power customers.

“In addition, world-class research on security of supply, public safety and social acceptance associated with these transitions will be undertaken in support of these exciting developments.
“This research will also be supported by a comprehensive education and training program.”

The three research programs include:

1. Fuel technologies, systems and markets

This program will support the decarbonisation of networks through R&D support of industry led pilot projects; develop understanding and business cases for the introduction of future energy fluids such as hydrogen, biogas and syngas; and build advanced techno-economic and scenario models of energy systems, networks and markets.

The program will also help to develop novel materials for transport and storage of low-carbon energy fluids; accelerate the development of strategic, early-stage, breakthrough future fuel production technologies; and identify cost-effective low carbon solutions for supply to gas-reliant Australian manufacturing industries.

2. Social acceptance, public safety and security of supply

This research program aims to identify best practice policy solutions to support governance of successful adoption and management of future fuels and its related infrastructure, as well as develop innovative community engagement practices to unlock energy resources and promote transformational energy technologies.

It will also anticipate and address issues of social acceptance relating to energy transfer, and accelerate the use of innovative technology to inhibit third party interference to buried infrastructure, such as fibre optics, sensors and drones.

The last of its aims looks to develop new mobile interactive technologies for field workers in the energy sector to support better safety practices, as well as strengthening organisational accident prevention to sustain the world’s best practice safety and reliability performance of Australia’s gas infrastructure.

3. Network lifecycle management

The third research program will inform regulators in the development of Australian and International Standards for the transport and use of future fuels, and develop innovative technology for measuring and evaluating the performance of assets.

It also aims to build smart monitoring, data analytics and asset condition prediction tools that support the Internet of Things, and enhance asset management; research advanced composite repair and coating systems with self-healing capability; in addition to enhancing pipeline value by improving pipe material properties and predictive models.

The network lifecycle management program will also extend the remaining safe economic working life of assets by novel testing techniques and repurpose assets.
The Future Fuels CRC is currently applying as part of the annual funding rounds which targets an initiation of the CRC in mid-late 2018.

If successful, the Future Fuels CRC will operate for seven years and is a most promising avenue of research and industry-led collaboration for the Australian energy sector.

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