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Energy & Utilities

How this small regional city is becoming a national hydrogen leader

13 Oct 2023, by Amy Sarcevic

A small city of 30,000 people in regional Australia is not the first place that springs to mind when you hear the phrase ‘national hydrogen leader’. But thanks to the efforts of Deakin University, local industry and the community, Warrnambool in Victoria is fast earning that title.

Under the Hycel initiative, the Ocean Road city is paving the way on hydrogen social licence research and is taking steps to build awareness and support for the technology.

Ailiche Goddard-Clegg, who is coordinating the initiative, says the aim is to add to the national understanding of hydrogen perceptions and prepare regional communities for a transition to the fuel.

While the social licence surrounding hydrogen has been a focus at the national level, more was needed to understand attitudes from regional communities, she says.

“We felt it was important to understand the risks and questions the community would be asking us around hydrogen and to feed that back to governments and industry partners to inform the way of the future,” she said.

Encouraging findings

Thankfully, the initiative revealed positive community perceptions towards hydrogen, with 76 percent of community members supporting its future use.

Despite this, there was a lack of understanding around how the technology works and its role in the overall energy mix – a finding which mirrored that of national surveys.

Ms Goddard-Clegg said improving this knowledge is a priority, given that hydrogen will form a suite of technologies required for our clean energy future.

“It’s important that people have a good awareness of what hydrogen generation entails, that they clearly understand the pros and cons, and can make an informed judgement about the technology,” she said.

“For this, we need to present information that isn’t biased towards hydrogen and highlight the areas that need to be optimised for hydrogen to emerge as one of many future fuels.”

Hydrogen in action

To foster this awareness, Ms Goddard-Clegg and colleagues have used a range of tools and community outreach methods. Among them, a table-top hydrogen-powered car and electrolyser, which they use primarily in school demonstrations.

“This prop is powerful in its simplicity and has proven a real hit with all age groups. In the space of just 45 minutes, audience members get to split water into oxygen and hydrogen, and power the car (or a fan) in real time. It’s great because it’s engaging, accessible and can be delivered safely within any community forum.

The tool has also been used in workplace demonstrations and is equally popular with adults.

“Some of the loveliest engagement we have seen has been with parents, during a display we did recently at the local art gallery. The hydrogen cars helped ignite their passion for science, but also answered some of the more technical questions they may have.

“Likewise, politicians loved their moment with the hydrogen cars – they are a very accessible way of understanding hydrogen. You obviously can’t see or smell hydrogen, but this tool makes it easy to demonstrate what it is.”

Hydrogen curriculum

Alongside these displays, schools in 2024 will be able to access a targeted hydrogen curriculum that Hycel and Deakin’s School of Education have designed.

As part of this effort, the team has been working with fourth year engineering students, using Lego models to demonstrate hydrogen’s applicability to the heavy trucking industry.

“We have developed an array of display tools to be used in science projects, which makes the whole thing more engaging and accessible.”

Girls have been a particular focus, given that women tend to be underrepresented in STEM.

“We work with school age girls and help them recognise their potential as STEM leaders, specialising in the hydrogen industry. We create an energy-related problem for them to work on and get them to solve it, among a range of learning activities.”

Ms Goddard-Clegg says this work often has a knock on effect for families.
“There is research showing that teenagers, especially girls, are often the most influential people in a family unit, so communicating with this age group can be really beneficial. The students go home and report back what they’ve learned, often with great excitement, which then spreads to parents and the broader family.”

Broader work around hydrogen

The work of Ms Goddard-Clegg and team connects a variety of industry partners and research teams, each of whom are aligned across four areas: mobility, materials & manufacturing, education and social licence.

“Having the two very technical arms of mobility and materials & manufacturing alongside the softer science of education and social licence has been a huge strength of the program and is what sets us apart.

“The mobility arms looks at the applicability and optimisation of fuel cells in heavy vehicles, while materials & manufacturing looks at infrastructure, storage and containment. Education and social licence – which can often be an afterthought in the context of hydrogen – are given equal focus and scientific treatment. They are embedded into the fabric of what we do.”

The project is supported by a world-class research facility – the Hycel Technology Hub – which has a series of laboratories for the research and manufacture of fuel cells; and infrastructure to support their delivery. It also hosts a range of community and education spaces.

“The building is designed to bring community, research and industry together and discover everything there is to know about hydrogen. It’s a great space for us to solve social licence challenges at the same time as technical challenges.”

Further insight

Talking more about the Hycel project and its implications for the future use of hydrogen, Ailiche Goddard-Clegg will present at the upcoming Energy Infrastructure & Community Engagement Conference, hosted by Informa Connect.

This year’s event will be held 30 November – 1 December at the Radisson Blu Plaza Sydney.

Learn more and register your place here.

About Ailiche

Ailiche Goddard-Clegg specialises in best practice communication and engagement that builds social licence for sustainable futures.

At Deakin University, Ailiche leads Hycel’s hydrogen social licence research, communication, and engagement program where she brings research, industry, and community together to develop outcomes for broad benefit.

At Hycel, Ailiche has shaped the social licence program so that knowledge captured at the regional and industry level informs the national dialogue on hydrogen social licence.

Ailiche is a winner of the Wannon Volunteer Partnership Award and an Office for Women Governance Scholarship recipient.

As the co-chair of Beyond the Bell Great South Coast Board, Board Director at Leadership Great South Coast and President of the Warrnambool Theatre Company, Ailiche advocates for community partnerships, education, volunteerism, and creative expression.



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