Australia Goes All-in on Green Hydrogen | Tower Tech

For a number of months now, 20 groups of Australian high-school college students have been designing fuel-cell vehicles to compete within the nation’s inaugural Hydrogen Grand Prix. They’ve been finding out up on renewable power, hydrogen energy, and electrical automobiles, making ready for the large day in April when their remote-controlled automobiles will rumble for 4 hours in Gladstone, a port metropolis in Queensland. The duty: profit from a 30-watt gas cell and 14 grams of hydrogen fuel.

Just a few months later and a few 800 kilometers up Queensland’s coast, Grand Prix company cosponsor
Ark Power goals to use the identical primary hydrogen and fuel-cell parts—albeit scaled up greater than 3,500 instances. By 2023’s third quarter, Ark expects 5 of the world’s largest fuel-cell vehicles to be hauling concentrated zinc ore and completed ingots between a zinc refinery and the close by port of Townsville. The carbon-free rigs will pack 50 kilos of hydrogen zapped from water utilizing electrical energy from the refinery’s devoted solar energy plant.

Welcome to Australia, the place a green-hydrogen growth is in full swing. Each the large and the toy-size automobiles are about promoting Australians on the transformative potential of inexperienced hydrogen—hydrogen fuel produced from renewable power—to decarbonize their fossil-fuel-based economic system. And whereas coal vegetation nonetheless provided over half of Australia’s energy in 2021, change is afoot. The federal government elected final yr handed the nation’s first climate-action legislation in
greater than a decade. And inexperienced hydrogen is the centerpiece of its clean-economy progress plan.

Useful resource-poor Asian neighbors comparable to Japan and Korea are additionally
relying on Aussie inexperienced hydrogen to assist get them off fossil fuels within the many years forward.

Add up the capability figures in all of Australia’s present proposals to supply inexperienced hydrogen and the sum exceeds
Australia’s power-generating capability. It’s all a part of a green-hydrogen wave that’s spreading worldwide.

Observers warning that a few of these green-hydrogen tasks won’t ever produce a thimbleful of hydrogen—an echo of the hydrogen growth a era in the past that in the end went bust. “It’s very straightforward on this present section for 2 folks you’ve by no means heard about to create a 30-gigawatt mission and put out a press launch,” says David Norman, CEO for the clean-energy analysis group
Future Fuels Cooperative Analysis Centre in Wollongong, New South Wales.

Phantom tasks aren’t an issue confined to Australia. Solely 10 p.c of the US $240 billion value of hydrogen tasks introduced worldwide are literally transferring ahead, in line with a
September 2022 examine by consultancy McKinsey & Firm. But many extra are literally wanted. Constructing each electrolyzer promised for 2030 would offer solely about one-sixth of the inexperienced hydrogen required to fulfill local weather targets, in line with figures from the Worldwide Power Company in Paris.

Amid this noisy background, Queensland is house to the 2 tasks more than likely to spice up the credibility of Australia’s green-hydrogen juggernaut in 2023. Ark Power’s mission is a part of a clean-energy blitz in Australia by its mum or dad firm, Seoul-based metal-refining big
Korea Zinc. The opposite glimmer of actuality is a mission in Gladstone to construct one of many world’s largest electrolyzer-manufacturing vegetation, which guarantees to supply an area supply of apparatus amid ongoing chaos in world provide chains.

Why a hydrogen truck?

The 124-megawatt photo voltaic plant adjoining to Korea Zinc’s Townsville refinery, accomplished in 2018, reduce 1 / 4 of the coal-heavy grid energy it had been utilizing to run its power-intensive electrolytic course of. The approaching fuel-cell vehicles will trim its diesel consumption.

Ark Power CEO Daniel Kim says Korea Zinc launched his agency in 2021 to assist shift its Australian operations to 80 p.c renewable power by 2030 and, within the course of, pave a path for one hundred pc renewable power group-wide by 2050. Kim says the 2050 objective requires inexperienced hydrogen—or a extra exportable gas comprised of it—as a result of Korea Zinc does most of its refining in South Korea, the place there’s restricted area for photo voltaic and wind vegetation.

Ark’s first transfer was to entry extra renewable energy in Australia by
shopping for right into a 923-MW wind farm that’s anticipated to spin up in 2024. Subsequent it ordered tools for the Townsville truck mission to start exploring inexperienced hydrogen’s capabilities and challenges. “To develop into a low-cost producer of inexperienced hydrogen, we first need to develop into an excessive consumer—to make it pervasive throughout our enterprise. Diesel alternative for heavy vehicles was the most effective potential use,” Kim says.

Right this moment, 28 heavy-duty diesel-powered vehicles function on the Townsville refinery. When ships arrive at port with zinc focus, or tie as much as tackle zinc ingots, the rigs haul triple-trailers and loop the 30 km from port to plant and again nonstop for as many as eight days. Time is cash, says Kim, as a result of occupying a berth in port can value a whopping AUS $22,000 (US $13,800) a day. Even when a battery-powered truck might deal with the refinery’s 140,000-tonne masses, Kim says his firm couldn’t afford to attend for batteries to recharge.

Fortescue’s progress plan anticipates delivery most of its inexperienced hydrogen out of Australia to scrub up heavy automobiles, industries, and energy grids worldwide.

In 2021, Ark Power took a stake in
Hyzon Motors, one of many few corporations engaged on ultraheavy vehicles powered by gas cells. Hyzon, based mostly in Rochester, N.Y., agreed to equip a few of its first extra-beefy fuel-cell rigs with the right-hand drive and wider carriage required in Australia—one thing different builders couldn’t supply till 2025 or 2026. “We’re bringing ahead the transition of Australia’s ultraheavy transport sector by a number of years,” says Kim.

To gas the vehicles, Ark Power ordered a 1-MW electrolyzer from
Plug Energy, based mostly in Latham, N.Y. Kim anticipated that building of the electrolyzer facility would begin across the finish of 2022, and vowed that 5 fuel-cell vehicles can be looping to port and again on hydrogen fuel within the third quarter of 2023 or sooner.

Kim says these automobiles will value “a little bit over 3 times” that of an equal diesel-fueled hauler, up entrance, however the general mission ought to break even and even lower your expenses over the vehicles’ projected 10-year working life. Authorities grants and loans and excessive diesel costs assist make hydrogen aggressive. The vehicles’ unchanging route was additionally a plus: The comparatively flat loop enabled use of a smaller, cheaper, gas cell. “This can be a devoted truck for a devoted objective,” Kim notes.

Exporting inexperienced hydrogen

Ark Power expects to start out exporting renewable power round 2030. In distinction, the staff delivering Queensland’s second dose of inexperienced hydrogen realism this yr might start commercial-scale exports in 2025. The AUS $114 million (US $72 million) electrolyzer plant rising in Gladstone is the primary brick-and-mortar green-hydrogen transfer by mining magnate
Andrew Forrest, Australia’s boldest, and wealthiest, green-hydrogen proponent.

Forrest turned the second-richest man in Australia working Perth-based
Fortescue Metals Group, which disrupted the worldwide iron-ore enterprise by means of vertical integration and aggressive value slicing.

Now Fortescue is making use of the identical technique to inexperienced hydrogen. Forrest vows to take a position US $6.2 billion to supply 15 million tonnes of inexperienced hydrogen per yr by 2030—50 p.c greater than what the European Union says it must import to get off Russian power and to chop carbon emissions. Doing so would require about
150GW of wind and photo voltaic era—greater than the full put in producing capability of France. The transfer is projected to eradicate 3 million tonnes of carbon per yr—slashing Fortescue’s emissions to zero and saving it US $818 million per yr.

Cameron Smith, head of producing for Fortescue’s green-energy subsidiary, Fortescue Future Industries, says getting there means slicing prices till the corporate’s renewable power is cheaper than fossil fuels. “Our goal right here is to make fossil fuels irrelevant,” Smith declares.

Fortescue is constructing its personal electrolyzer manufacturing plant regardless of a worldwide glut. Market analysts at BloombergNEF mission that manufacturing capability for electrolyzers will exceed demand
10- to 15-fold this yr. Smith says that’s not a serious concern for Fortescue, given the corporate’s crucial to chop prices and to rapidly carry green-hydrogen manufacturing on line. “We don’t have to make all the pieces, however we’d like a reputable pathway to take action if we will’t get the tools we’d like on the value and high quality we have to make all our tasks viable,” he says.

The Gladstone plant’s 13,000-square-meter envelope is already in place, and Smith anticipates set up of 1 line’s robotic machines throughout the second quarter of 2023. He expects the plant will finish the yr as a “gigawatt-scale” electrolyzer manufacturing facility: producing sufficient electrolyzers in a yr to eat 1 GW of electrical energy. And he expects manufacturing capability to double with a second line early in 2024.

The issue with delivery hydrogen

Fortescue expects inexperienced hydrogen to assist its personal operations attain net-zero carbon emissions by 2040. However its progress plan, like Ark Power’s, anticipates exporting most of its inexperienced hydrogen to scrub up heavy automobiles, industries, and energy grids worldwide. First, although, they must make it shippable.

Delivery hydrogen is expensive. As both a fuel or a liquid, it has comparatively low volumetric power density. So most of Australia’s potential green-hydrogen mega-producers anticipate to maneuver their power abroad by changing inexperienced hydrogen to ammonia—a chemical precursor for nitrogen fertilizers that already ships worldwide. Ammonia is primarily produced from hydrogen, though as we speak it’s usually carried out utilizing hydrogen made with pure fuel moderately than electrolysis.

Exported ammonia made in Australia from inexperienced hydrogen might already outcompete ammonia produced in Europe with pure fuel, in line with calculations by BloombergNEF, and proposed tasks are multiplying. Ark Power lately shaped an industrial consortium to make use of 3 GW of renewable energy to supply “inexperienced ammonia” for export to Korea, though first shipments wouldn’t occur till after 2030.

Fortescue has even larger long-term plans, and is already sizing up a approach to jump-start ammonia exports. It’s contemplating refitting a 54-year-old fertilizer plant in Brisbane, which was
slated to close down early this yr because of skyrocketing natural-gas costs. Fortescue and the plant’s proprietor are contemplating putting in 500 MW of electrolyzers to allow them to restart the plant on inexperienced hydrogen round 2025.

“It’s very straightforward on this present section for 2 folks you’ve by no means heard about to create a 30-gigawatt mission and put out a press launch,” says one observer.

Amid all of those grand plans, what stays to be seen, says hydrogen analyst
Martin Tengler at BloombergNEF’s Tokyo workplace, is whether or not green-ammonia exports can actually meet folks’s power wants.

Ammonia doesn’t burn effectively by itself, he notes, and changing exported ammonia again to hydrogen for metal vegetation or fuel-cell automobiles requires numerous power. “You’re utilizing power to import power. In case you want inexperienced hydrogen in Europe, it’s in all probability cheaper to make inexperienced hydrogen in Europe,” Tengler concludes.

Some plans for inexperienced ammonia might really prolong fossil-fuel consumption and thus delay local weather motion. For instance, some Japanese and Korean energy producers have introduced plans to burn inexperienced ammonia in coal-fired energy vegetation to cut back emissions.

In September, BloombergNEF
estimated that energy from Japanese coal vegetation burning 50 p.c inexperienced ammonia from Australia would value US $136 per megawatt-hour in 2030—greater than it tasks for energy from offshore wind and photo voltaic vegetation in Japan backed up with battery storage. “It’s not probably the most economical manner to make use of ammonia,” Tengler says, “or the most affordable manner for Japan and Korea to decarbonize.”

In different phrases, even when inexperienced hydrogen will get actual this yr, there’s a lot to find out about what it ought to be used for, and the place.

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