A community solar project in rural Australia will host the world’s first commercial-scale solid-state-hydrogen energy-storage project after being awarded a A$3.5m ($2.3m) grant from the New South Wales government.

The 4.5MW Manilla Community Solar array will backed by a unique 2MW/17MWh storage system that takes green hydrogen — produced in electrolysers powered by the solar panels — and stores it in a salt-like substance call sodium borohydride (NaBH4).

This non-toxic solid material can absorb hydrogen like a sponge, store the gas until it is required, and then release the H2 with the application of heat. The released hydrogen is then run through a fuel cell to generate electricity.

This system allows hydrogen to be stored cheaply at high density and low pressure without the need for energy-intensive compression or liquefaction. Rival storage technologies include ammonia and liquid organic hydrogen carriers.

The hydride storage technology was developed by Professor Kondo-Francois Aguey-Zinsou and his team at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) School of Chemical Engineering, and is being deployed by start-up H2Store, which was co-founded by Aguey-Zinsou.

“This initiative will provide the community [in Manilla] with the means to store solar energy and sell it on the electricity market during peak demand when the sun doesn’t shine,” Professor Aguey-Zinsou said.

“I am very excited to see the technology we developed in the lab here at UNSW scaled up and used in real-world applications. It will prove the feasibility of hydrogen storage at scale and position Australia to become a major player in transitioning to renewable energy.”

The levelised cost of the H2Store batteries are “already comparable to chemical battery storage technologies”, according to the company website.

Construction of the Manilla project will begin later this year, and is due to become operational in early 2021, with the storage component installed next year. The array — which will also be backed by a 4.5MW/4.5MWh lithium-ion battery — is owned by local company Manilla Community Renewable Energy and Sydney-based green investment outfit Providence Asset Group, which invested $3.5m in H2Store last year.