30 April 2024

Star Scientific heats up the hydrogen energy transition

Star Scientific believes its HERO technology can unlock clean, carbon-free heat for industry and communities.

Australian research and development company Star Scientific believes its technology can unlock clean, carbon-free heat for industry and communities.

The company’s breakthrough is its patented Hydrogen Energy Release Optimiser (HERO®) technology. The technology won the World Hydrogen Awards’ Industrial Application category in 2021. A catalytic reaction in the presence of hydrogen and oxygen generates heat and pure water. Tests have achieved up to 700 degrees Celsius in around 3 minutes. When green hydrogen and pure oxygen are used, the heat produced is emission-free.

‘Hydrogen has the potential to provide a green baseload energy system,’ says Deputy CEO and Head of Business Development Matthew Hingerty. ‘The challenge has been finding a way to liberate the energy that gets around concerns, complexity and perceived risks of burning. We believe we have found a way to address those concerns.’

Global interest in HERO’s heat

Technology that can produce continuous, usable, clean heat has many potential use cases and is attracting international interest.

The Government of the Philippines saw its potential for generating power. It signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Star Scientific in 2021.

In arid regions, there is particular interest in HERO's potential for desalination or waste-water treatment. Star Scientific and the Governor of New Mexico have jointly announced plans to develop a facility in Albuquerque.

Heating the food industry a possible route to transition

Star Scientific has also assessed the use case for retrofitting a 2,880 MW coal-fired power station. Sourcing hydrogen at the scale needed for large industrial uses is still a challenge, however.

A more immediate application may be on a smaller scale. HERO is currently being piloted for Mars Australia’s food manufacturing facility on the NSW Central Coast.

‘We see a path to the commerciality of hydrogen through smaller industrial operations and everyday purchases,’ says Hingerty. ‘We talk to companies needing continuous 24-hour heat for cooking, processing, cleaning and sterilising or packaging. They are concerned about carbon risks, including energy costs and community pressure.’

For those companies, Star Scientific plans to sell heat as a service. The company will source the hydrogen and monitor and maintain the technology.

‘Customers tell us they’ve been trying to get into hydrogen, but didn’t understand the colours, or how it all worked. As soon as we explain we will take care of that for them, they immediately relax,’ says Hingerty.

A group of 5 people in high-visibility vests. A man is providing a demonstration to the woman in the centre of the group (EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson).


Setting new standards

Along the journey to commercialising its technology, Star Scientific has encountered some inherent challenges as an innovator.

‘What we do with hydrogen is not burning it,’ Hingerty explains. ‘So there were no regulations for what we’re doing. If we want to operate in the US or Europe, we need a global standard. We take the regulatory side of it painstakingly seriously.’

Star Scientific’s demonstration units are used for regulatory demonstrations, as the company works with regulators and with Standards Australia to develop applicable standards.

Austrade’s support instrumental in reaching the world stage

Star Scientific will attend the 2024 World Hydrogen Summit in Rotterdam as part of the Australian delegation. This will be its third time attending. Hingerty is emphatic about the value of the opportunity to meet with so many people and to learn.

‘To get the same level of insight into the industry, we’d have to spend 6 months travelling around speaking to dozens of people,’ he says.

Beyond the conference floor, he says, ‘Austrade’s introductions and market intelligence help de-risk our export efforts and take a whole heap of stress out of doing business in different jurisdictions.’

Energy justice and the future of the energy transition

Beyond the commercial applications, Star Scientific’s technology can also be used to provide clean, affordable and safe power to communities with limited or no access to energy.

That could mean replacing diesel generators in remote Australian communities, providing community heating, or micro-grid generation in countries with no connected grid. According to a World Bank report, solar mini grids can provide high-quality uninterrupted electricity to nearly half a billion people in unpowered or underserved communities. They could be a least-cost solution to close the energy access gap by 2030. (Source: World Bank, Mini Grids for Half a Billion people: Market Outlook and Handbook for Decision Makers, September 2022.)

Renewable energy and hydrogen storage have the potential to decentralise energy production and storage.

‘But we should not assume that by 2050 renewable energy will be supplied by current technologies like wind and solar,’ says Hingerty. ‘People are working away in sheds and backrooms on all kinds of interesting ideas. Many may come to nothing, but one or two will be worth exploring.

‘We make it our business to hunt those down and research them.’