The S$25 million institute is the first of its type in Southeast Asia and aims to deliver green hydrogen from the laboratory to society.
The combustion of fossil fuels is one of the most prevalent techniques of energy production. However, this has negative effects on the ecosystem. Hydrogen has been highlighted as an alternative energy source due to its shown effectiveness as an energy carrier and its low carbon footprint when utilized. However, high costs continue to be a significant impediment to the widespread adoption of green hydrogen as a climate solution.
To solve this issue, the National University of Singapore (NUS) has established a new research institute, the Centre for Hydrogen Innovations (CHI), whose mission is to develop game-changing technologies that will make hydrogen a commercially viable green energy source. In turn, these capabilities will position Singapore as a game-changer in allowing a hydrogen economy – one that relies on hydrogen as one of the primary commercial fuels to meet Singapore’s energy requirements. The new center began operations on July 1, 2022.
The first institution of its sort in Southeast Asia, CHI, has received an endowment donation of S$15 million from Temasek, and with additional funding from NUS, the new center has a total investment of S$25 million.
“The Centre for Hydrogen Innovations will conduct ground-breaking research on making green hydrogen affordable for Singapore. The Centre and the existing NUS Green Energy Programme, which focuses on carbon capture and utilisation, are both key to NUS’ strategy of offering world-class, innovative solutions to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels as a source of energy,” said Professor Ho Teck Hua, NUS Senior Deputy President and Provost.
Mr Russell Tham, Head of Strategic Development and Joint Head of Enterprise Development Group at Temasek, said, “Temasek supports efforts that catalyze solutions for a net zero world. We believe green hydrogen can play an important role in global decarbonization. Hence, we are pleased to support CHI in their efforts to accelerate R&D breakthroughs and develop research talent for the hydrogen economy.”
Prof. Ho and Mr. Tham will co-chair a governance board that will offer strategic direction and oversight for the new Centre. The governance board is comprised of leaders from the academic, government, and corporate sectors in Singapore and abroad, including Mr David Danielson, Managing Director of Breakthrough Energy Ventures; Mr Bernd Heid, Senior Partner in McKinsey & Company and Global Lead for McKinsey’s Platform for Climate Technologies and Hydrogen Service Line; Professor Thomas Jaramillo, Director of SUNCAT Center for Interface Science and Catalysis at Stanford University; and Professor Can Yurdakul, Professor
Creating a successful hydrogen economy — A comprehensive strategy
Led by Professor Liu Bin, who also founded the NUS Green Energy Program, CHI will take a holistic approach to address technological and infrastructural challenges in enabling a hydrogen economy by leveraging a broad spectrum of expertise from various NUS entities, including science, engineering, social sciences, and humanities. The primary focus of the first phase will be on hydrogen carrier and supply chain investigations.
Singapore’s limited solar and water resources may need the importation of hydrogen from regional sources. CHI intends to perform cost analysis and supply chain analyses of imports to ensure cost-effectiveness and maintain the affordability of downstream commercial hydrogen applications. The Centre will also concentrate on the development of technology to enable the safe transport of imported hydrogen.
In order to guarantee national energy security in the event of supply chain disruptions, the Centre will also investigate innovative methods for the local production of hydrogen, such as the electrolysis of water and methane pyrolysis, using solar energy as a renewable energy source.
In addition, the Centre will collaborate closely with industry partners to investigate and expedite uses for hydrogen as a fuel. Fuel cells for commercial and transportation usage and as a clean feedstock for the chemical industry are examples of such applications. The Centre seeks to form local and international connections with industry leaders.
Through NUS, the Centre will provide training programs to provide sufficient expertise and skilled professionals equipped with the skills and knowledge of the various hydrogen economy components. These programs will consist of degree programs, short courses, and certificates aimed at undergraduate and postgraduate students, adult learners, policymakers, and industry leaders in an effort to establish a talent pool for enabling a hydrogen economy.
The Centre will also interact with the NUS community to produce effective safety laws, risk assessments, and policies for the use of novel hydrogen technologies.
Prof Liu, Director of CHI, shared, “The Centre will leverage on expertise from NUS in education, research, and entrepreneurship to provide thought leadership, cutting-edge science and technologies and foster collaborations to catalyze breakthroughs and innovations in the global hydrogen economy.”
Developing revolutionary hydrogen technology
CHI will initially house nine innovative hydrogen-related research projects, with each getting up to S$250,000. These research projects will concentrate on the development of disruptive technologies associated with the establishment of a hydrogen economy in Singapore, such as the creation of hydrogen carriers (chemicals containing hydrogen to be extracted) and infrastructure.
It is known that ammonia is an efficient hydrogen carrier and a possible carbon-free fuel. However, the extraction of hydrogen from ammonia has technological obstacles. His team, led by Associate Professor Yan Ning of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in the NUS College of Design and Engineering (NUS CDE), aims to develop more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly techniques for extracting hydrogen from ammonia.
Associate Professor Wang Qing and his team from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering under NUS CDE have developed a type of redox-flow battery system that can combine electricity storage and hydrogen production through specially formulated chemicals, powered by renewable energy such as solar, in an effort to boost local on-demand production of hydrogen. This enables for the stable synthesis of hydrogen and storage of electricity. The latter might be used to charge electric vehicles or to provide electricity to Singapore’s electrical grid.
Assistant Professors Lum Yanwei and Wang Lei from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering under NUS CDE are spearheading another novel initiative. Together with their teams, they will investigate how hydrogen could be transformed straight from water into a liquid hydrogen carrier with a high energy density, skipping the phase of extracting hydrogen from water to generate hydrogen gas. This might potentially eliminate the risks and expenses associated with shipping, storing, and utilizing hydrogen.
“Through the new Centre, we aim to advance hydrogen-related R&D in Singapore to solve high-value problems that can significantly bring down the cost of green hydrogen as a fuel. At the same time, we will provide talent training for both academia and industry to grow the pool of hydrogen-related researchers, as well as upskill the workforce to prepare Singapore for a hydrogen economy,” said Prof Liu.