World's largest renewable energy project two years away from approval
The $51 billion Asian Renewable Energy Hub (AREH) has been nearly six years in development, but the upheaval of 2020 and increased focus on decarbonising economies has brought the large-scale, clean energy project into the limelight.
The project aims to use wind and solar energy to generate clean electricity at “oil and gas scale” and export it in chemical form by converting it to hydrogen and then to ammonia, to load onto ships and carry to global markets.
AREH manager Andrew Dickson said that in the past the potential of hydrogen was undone by lack of economic viability.
“At every rebirth, the basic problem was the same, the chemistry was simple – but the economics were diabolical,” Mr Dickson said.
But this time around, three things have changed. Input energy costs have fallen dramatically, there has been a vast improvement in the utilisation costs and growing market pull is changing the economics behind the hydrogen projects.
“In the last decade the cost of wind power has fallen 70 per cent and solar power costs have fallen 90 per cent,” Dickson said. “Cheap clean energy at scale can produce clean hydrogen and green ammonia at scale,” Mr Dickson said.
“Many countries, particularly to our north, do not have the ability to generate large amounts of renewables themselves, they may not have the land, may not have the wind resources or the solar resources.
“For this reason, Australia is very well suited to producing renewables at a larger scale and exporting that energy.”
AREH is developing a 6500sqkm site between Broome and Port Hedland, about 30km inland from the coast. The site will house around 1700 9MW turbines plus solar PV arrays to generate a staggering 26,000MW.
In contrast, the Snowy Hydro project generates 4000MW and the Three Gorges Dam in China generates 22,500MW. AREH is the largest power generation project under development in the world.
Mr Dickson said energy generated from wind and solar power will be used to desalinate seawater, electrolyse fresh water to create hydrogen, and separate nitrogen from the air (which is 78 per cent nitrogen). The nitrogen will then be combined with the hydrogen in the ammonia synthesis process.
The resulting green ammonia will be refrigerated, compressed, and stored in large tanks located onshore, to be later piped out to an offshore liquid ammonia loading structure onto ships to take the product to markets worldwide.
The project anticipates major approvals in WA and ministerial sign off by 2022, FID in 2025 followed by 10 years of construction with up to 5000 direct jobs, and first ammonia exports in 2028.
Key markets will be emerging power generators such as co-firing in coal-fired power stations or ammonia gas turbines, use as fuel for large, long-distance shipping and the fertiliser and explosive market.
“The life of the project is 50 years,” Mr Dickson said. “Of course, our resource never outs, the beauty of this project is that the wind keeps blowing and the sun keeps shining.”
Mr Dickson said the project could deliver power into the Pilbara if there was market demand and that the project had committed 3GW upstream wind and solar energy capacity for Pilbara power users to decarbonise heavy fleets and to enable downstream processing.