Dr. Alan Finkel: The time to act is now

Dr. Alan Finkel: The time to act is now

“By working together to ensure the highest standards of safety, we can turn the long-held dream of clean hydrogen contributing to our energy needs into a reality, and inspire a new generation of innovators, dreamers, and doers.”

Those were words spoken by Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr. Alan Finkel AO this morning as he addressed the 8th biennial International Conference on Hydrogen Safety (ICHS 2019) in Adelaide, Australia.

“Decades of experience and continuing progress in technologies have shown that hydrogen power is reliable and secure,” he told the ICHS 2019 audience.

“From ammonia production to petrochemical refineries to metals processing to chemical, food, and glass manufacture, the safety record of hydrogen in this country is exemplary.”

“I am confident that this record can be maintained as we seek to open new frontiers and expand our energy horizons.”

As Chair of the Council of Australian Government’s Hydrogen Working Group, Finkel reported that the group is currently developing Australia’s National Hydrogen Strategy by examining five areas of opportunity:

  • First – Analysing the benefits, risks, and barriers to using hydrogen as a transport fuel in Australia by 2030.
  • Second – the interplay between hydrogen production and electricity system operation, and the opportunities for clean hydrogen production and storage to contribute to the resilience of Australia’s electricity systems.
  • Third – Analysing the challenges and issues related to introducing hydrogen into Australia’s gas distribution networks, and examining the actions needed to start blending hydrogen into these networks.
  • Fourth – exploring opportunities for developing an export market for Australian hydrogen with partner countries.
  • And finally – investigating opportunities for hydrogen as a chemical feedstock and source of industrial heat

“I am, therefore, acutely aware of the unparalleled possibilities this source of power can unleash,” he said.

“However, I am also aware, and I firmly believe, that its benefits across all areas will only be realised by a wholehearted commitment to safety and transparency, and our ability to bring the Australian community along on the journey.”

“To maintain the trust of the Australian people, every effort must be made to protect public health and safety and to provide straightforward answers to any legitimate concerns about producing hydrogen at scale.”

“We must also ensure the process of determining the safety and environmental standards of hydrogen is more extensive and more accessible to the public than for any comparable enterprise.”

“We must, in short, pay attention to every aspect of hydrogen safety – from down in the weeds, right up to the tree tops – and encourage everyone to get involved in this endeavour.”

“The numerous hydrogen stations along California’s highways offer a glimpse of how a comprehensive, coordinated approach can lead to a large, rapid growth in hydrogen demand.”

California

Finkel highlighted the work of the California Fuel Cell Patnership (CaFCP) in the state of California, which has more hydrogen fuel cell vehicles than any country in the world.

He said this was an example of how embracing a spirit of partnership across sectors and enhancing public understanding of hydrogen can reap benefits.

“Crucially, the CaFCP also joined forces with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to develop and deliver hydrogen safety-related emergency services training materials and programs,” Finkel continued.

“As Hydrogen Safety Program manager at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and now Director of the Center for Hydrogen Safety, Nick Barilo, who is here with us today, noted ‘part of the training is to remove the stigma. People don’t understand what hydrogen is all about’.”

“Through more than 10,000 sessions, emergency responders were educated on the safety features built into hydrogen fuel cell vehicles as well as what to expect when they arrive at the scene of a crash.”

“The fruits of this labour are there for all to see, with Californians owning more hydrogen fuel cell vehicles than any country in the world.”

“The numerous hydrogen stations along California’s highways offer a glimpse of how a comprehensive, coordinated approach can lead to a large, rapid growth in hydrogen demand.”

“This success also illustrates one of the most important principles of good safety regulation, little understood by the public but fully understood by experts like yourselves.”

“The principle is that we can have our cake and eat it too.”

“More specifically, what I mean is that good safety regulation should simultaneously ensure the safety of the public and facilitate commerce.”

“Which is why I am delighted that Australia will be joining the Center for Hydrogen Safety, exploring how our emergency services personnel can leverage the expertise of Nick and his team.”

“The time to act is now, to seize the moment.”

Concluding thoughts

“It is testament to the vision and sustained action of successive South Australian governments, and its public service, that the Festival State is now an established world leader in the transition to a cleaner and more energy efficient future,” Finkel said.

“Hosting this conference for the first time ever on our shores underlines this commitment as we nurture hydrogen’s role in a sustainable energy system, and ensure safety underpins all elements in its development.”

“The findings, information, and data presented by the world’s best hydrogen safety experts over the next three days will be invaluable to the pioneering work that lies ahead of us and I encourage you to reach out to members of our taskforce who are here with us today.”

“Our nation’s capacity to utilise new industries and technologies to overcome our greatest challenges has driven our success as a nation: an Australia that lives and dies by its standards and quality brand.”

“The time to act is now, to seize the moment.”

“By working together to ensure the highest standards of safety, we can turn the long-held dream of clean hydrogen contributing to our energy needs into a reality, and inspire a new generation of innovators, dreamers, and doers.”

“This conference is the perfect forum to safely journey along the next chapter in that dream. May the Force be with you.”


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