Photograph shows service station pump inserted into the fuel inlet of a hydrogen-driven vehicle.

CSIRO technology would allow on-demand, on-site fuel for hydrogen-fuelled transport.

Hydrogen transportation: stepping on the gas

As future oil prices soar, a CSIRO developed device may be all you need to power your car.

  • 24 February 2006 | Updated 14 October 2011

The challenge

Rising petrol prices has reinvigorated the alternative energy debate. Biofuels such as ethanol are one option, but another alternative being promoted is hydrogen.

Until now, hydrogen’s use as an energy source has been minimal, because fossil fuels have been so readily available and hydrogen generation has been comparatively expensive and inefficient.

While the idea of fuelling your car with hydrogen might sound like science fiction, researchers say concepts such as the hydrogen economy are real possibilities.

A CSIRO solution

As part of the Energy Transformed Flagship research program, CSIRO has developed a device the size of a small, domestic microwave oven to extract enough hydrogen per day, from water, to power a family car for up to 150 km, just using:

  • house-hold electricity
  • a solar panel
  • a small wind turbine.

This could be a far cheaper alternative to building new hydrogen service stations and be more readily usable in a range of applications, including transport.

Project leader, Dr Sukhvinder Badwal, said that although several commercial systems exist, they are not very efficient. Drawbacks of current systems include:

  • high capital costs
  • lifetime performance
  • the inability to handle intermittent and varying loads.

How it works

Electrolysis of water produces hydrogen and oxygen. Hydrogen electrochemically recombines with oxygen in a fuel cell to generate power, and water is the only by-product.

"The hydrogen produced is of such high purity that it can be used directly in a fuel cell... without further purification."
Dr Sukhvinder Badwal
Project Leader 

Dr Badwal said, 'The hydrogen produced is of such high purity that it can be used directly in a fuel cell or anywhere else without further purification.'

'The electrolyser responds instantaneously to applied load and is capable of accepting large load variations, making it easy to use this technology with solar or wind power. The hydrogen generated can be stored for long periods and be converted to electricity when needed.'

'Hydrogen cannot, at this stage, compete economically with fossil fuels, but increasing oil prices could create a different scenario', Dr Badwal said.

'By 2010, Australia could be importing 60 per cent of its crude oil. Our abundant sustainable energy sources are major drivers for a shift to the hydrogen economy.'

The project is still in the research and development stage, but, with full-scale commercialisation in sight, CSIRO is seeking a commercial partner.

Learn more about CSIRO’s work in Renewable Energy.