Chief Scientist Alan Finkel talks up green hydrogen exports
Summary: Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s hydrogen power strategy group says Australia could soon be “exporting sunshine” in the form of renewable energy-produced hydrogen, creating an industry that could rival Australia’s LNG exports within decades.....
The Turnbull government — beset by internal critics over its approach to energy policy — yesterday announced a $50 million investment towards a $500m world-first hydrogen project in the Latrobe Valley, which will produce the gas using brown coal.
But the Finkel-led strategy group sees so-called “brown hydrogen” as a stepping stone to “green hydrogen” produced using excess solar and wind capacity.
The group, which includes senior bureaucrats and industry representatives, has no formal authority but seeks to set a vision for hydrogen power, provide information to government and stakeholders, and support proponents of hydrogen projects.
In a recent meeting, the group discussed opportunities to “take advantage of our abundant wind and solar resources by ‘exporting sunshine’ as hydrogen”, and “near-term opportunities to export hydrogen produced by fossil fuels”.
Hydrogen has huge potential as a clean energy source, but is currently uneconomical to produce and export at scale. It can be created through electrolysis of water; or through gasification or particle oxidation of hydrocarbon fuels.
The group acknowledges the “green hydrogen story is more saleable than brown hydrogen” but says brown hydrogen is closer to being commercialised.
It believes the government needs to facilitate further technological development and uptake through regulatory oversight.
Japan is embracing hydrogen, which produces heat and water vapour when burned, in a national strategy to create an emissions-free “hydrogen society” by 2030.
Siemens head of strategy Martin Hablutzel, who sits on the strategy group, said the shift to green hydrogen, produced by excess solar and wind energy, would allow Australia to “export sunshine” on a large scale.
“We should have ambition to build an industry of that scale,” Mr Hablutzel said. “We’ve got cheap land. And we have as-good-as-it-gets assets, solar and wind assets that are untapped.”
He said a Siemens pilot plant in South Australia was already producing hydrogen from electricity, which was being injected into Adelaide’s natural gas grid.
Another member of the group, Australian Renewable Energy Agency chief executive Ivor Frischknecht, said Australia’s potential as a renewable-energy producer gave it an advantage as a hydrogen producer.
“As an export industry we are talking tens of billions of dollars, but that is some decades away,” he said.
ARENA launched a $20m funding round last year to support the development of technology to enable hydrogen to be exported more efficiently using “carriers” such as ammonia.
The Latrobe Valley project is being delivered by a consortium of Japanese and Australian companies, including Kawasaki Heavy Industries, J-Power (Electric Power Development Co, Iwatani Corporation, Marubeni and AGL.