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Is Australia's hydrogen economy a beat up?

26 Nov 2019 2:07 PM | Sonia Harvey (Administrator)

HYDROGEN development has been a rare spot of bipartisan energy agreement between the major parties last year and through 2019 and today’s Council of Australian Governments energy ministers’ meeting in Perth will also see the launch of the National Hydrogen Strategy, which first went out for public comment in March.

One of the reasons for the enthusiasm from the Liberal Party is that the gas, even when ‘clean', can be made from fossil fuels.   

The Malcolm Turnbull-led government put A$100 million towards a brown coal to hydrogen project in Victoria's La Trobe Valley led by Kawasaki Heavy Industries to the abject disgust of renewable proponents.  

Progressive think tank The Australia Institute, which is no friend to any part of the fossil fuel industry, suspects a beat up similar to ‘clean coal' claims and believes this may fix a path for Australia for fossil fuel generated hydrogen or, as it suggests, ‘hytrojan'.  

Developing hydrogen with coal and gas risks locking in increased emissions, given the track record of carbon capture and storage. Australia should focus on hydrogen produced with renewable energy," it said.  

"Australia should focus on hydrogen produced with renewable energy." 

The Institute points to a few things already well known: the gas is used in multiple industrial processes already and created from methane or coal via methods that yield large amounts of CO2. It estimates as much as the combined emissions of the UK and Indonesia.  

For hydrogen to be ‘cleaner' when made from fossil fuels the resulting CO2 needs to be captured and sequestered.  

It suggests the specific failures of Chevron Corporation's Gorgon CCS plan - three years late but apparently now operating at 60% capacity according to a company speech this week - are a fair indication of the value of sequestration work, though CO2 from the La Trobe project will apparently be sent to CarbonNet's CCS project.  

It says Japan and South Korea's hydrogen targets are nowhere near as high as what reports from firms like ACIL Allen suggest, which has been referenced by the CSIRO and Australia's chief scientist Dr Alan Finkel.  

"For Japan the ACIL Allen hydrogen import projections for 2030 are up to 11 times Japan's official target. Even the low demand projection is two and half times the official target. The projections for South Korea are similarly high by comparison with government plans. Both countries see imports playing a much smaller role to 2030," it said. 

The debate has been characterised in Australia as a race given multiple other countries from Germany to Bahrain are also developing varied hydrogen plans and a possible export industry. As Dr Finkel himself has said, if Australia is "capture" the opportunity it needs to move fast. 

Source: Energy News Bulletin

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