Renewable energy might soon gain a new player, with graphene tech company Sparc Technologies (ASX: SPN) wrapping up prototype testing for its solar reactor, Sparc Hydrogen. The product can split water using sunlight and a photocatalyst, saving time, cost and energy.
Sparc Hydrogen is a joint venture between the University of Adelaide (28%), Fortescue (20%) and Sparc Technologies (52%). It has completed the first phase of on-sun prototype testing at the CSIRO Energy Centre in Newcastle, New South Wales. The prototype testing is the first demonstration of Sparc Hydrogen’s photocatalytic water splitting (PWS) reactor outside the laboratory.
The main goals of this project were to improve the technology of Sparc Hydrogen’s PWS reactor—improve the technology readiness level (TRL) from 4 to 5—and gather essential data for designing a pilot plant reactor. This was achieved by conducting multiple test runs to produce hydrogen gas. The tests also identified changes needed in the reactor design, which will be implemented in future versions of the PWS reactor.
Sparc Technologies Executive Chair, Stephen Hunt, commented, “Sparc is very pleased to have successfully completed this round of prototype testing with our Sparc Hydrogen partners, The University of Adelaide, Fortescue and Flinders University, at the CSIRO Energy Centre in Newcastle. The data and learnings from the repeated on-sun trials are invaluable and will improve reactor design as we continue to scale the technology towards a pilot plant.”
Sparc Hydrogen is working on building advanced green hydrogen technology through photocatalytic water splitting (PWS). Unlike electrolysis, this process relies on sunlight, water, and a photocatalyst. The patented PWS reactor from Sparc Hydrogen aims to enhance the efficiency of extracting hydrogen from water using concentrated solar energy. With lower infrastructure needs and energy consumption, the Sparc Green Hydrogen tech could turn out to be lighter on the wallet and more flexible than electrolysis.
Along with prototype testing for feasibility, Sparc Hydrogen has been working with an external consultant to complete a pilot plant pre-FEED (front-end engineering and design) study to get this tech closer to realisation.
The study is based in a chosen location close to Adelaide and will be completed before 2023 ends. It will include a conceptual flowsheet design, equipment selection, cost assessment, and an analysis of risks and opportunities for a pilot plant. The purpose of this plant is to conduct continuous on-sun testing of Sparc Hydrogen’s PWS reactor, marking the next developmental stage for the company.
If commissioned, the pilot plant would elevate the technology readiness level to TRL 6. The study’s outcomes will be crucial for grant applications and will serve as the foundation for detailed design and engineering in 2024.
Hunt added, “Completion of this test work is a significant milestone, not only for Sparc Hydrogen, but more widely for the advancement of photocatalytic water splitting, a next-generation green hydrogen production technology which does not require capital intensive electrolysers, nor solar or wind farms.”
A testament to its tech: Sparc Hydrogen received an R&D tax refund totalling $371,655 as part of the Australian Government’s research and development tax incentive. It also recently received approval from Australia’s Commercial Evaluation Authorisation (CEA) to kick off the commercial trials for Ecosparc, its anti-corrosion additive.
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