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Is it cost effective producing green hydrogen from trees?

07 March 2023

University of Canterbury (UC) research to turn woody biomass, into green hydrogen and establish its commercial viability could contribute to New Zealand achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.


University of Canterbury Chemical and Process Engineering PhD student Jhulimar Castro’s research looks at the commercial viability of producing green hydrogen from pine trees.

UC Chemical and Process Engineering (CAPE) PhD student Jhulimar Castro is part of a team led by Professor Shusheng Pang that has been working on experimental research to convert the wood biomass including pine trees, forest and wood process residues as well as forest slash, to green hydrogen and securing future energy supply.

SDG 7 Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 - Affordable and Clean Energy

“Green hydrogen is one of the best alternatives to fossil fuels, which is why it is a key factor in the Government’s net zero emissions by 2050 scenario,” says Castro. “By using pine trees and the slash wood, which are renewable, we are able to produce green hydrogen that can be used for different applications, such as vehicle fuel in fuel cells, but most importantly to substitute the fossil fuel-based hydrogen used in energy and chemical industries. This will help to reduce the country’s reliance on fossil fuels, potentially removing one-quarter of New Zealand’s energy sector emissions.”

With a number of CAPE students working on different parts of the process, Castro’s research pulls together all of the elements to assess whether this pathway of hydrogen production is commercially viable.

“Each member of our team is working on a different part of the process in the lab on a small scale, so my role is to produce a simulation-based model to evaluate the overall technical, economic, and environmental performance of the whole process when scaled up. The new model will provide new, important information for investors in this technology that will hopefully push forward the large-scale commercialisation of green hydrogen production.”

Currently in the second year of her PhD, Castro says her long-term goal is to be part of that commercialisation process.

“It is important to me as a chemical engineer to contribute towards solutions for the world’s challenges through research, in this case climate change mitigation and energy security. In the future, my goal is to join an energy company to help with the commercialisation of this technology and to apply my research to do something beneficial for our communities, economy and environment.”

The project is funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and includes multiple streams of research, including PhD student Chichi Zhang’s research developing metal oxides with the ability to produce abundant green hydrogen from woody biomass.

Read more stories about how University of Canterbury researchers are contributing to Aotearoa New Zealand reaching its energy goals by 2050.

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