Western Australia has an extraordinary opportunity to become a leader in the renewable hydrogen industry, according to Regional Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan.
Her comments came as she and Water Resources Minister Dave Kelly announced details of an Australian-first project to produce renewable hydrogen and graphite from wastewater.
Water Corporation and WA company Hazer Group have partnered to develop the Hazer Process technology for commercial use.
Under the deal, the three-year operation at Woodman Point Wastewater Treatment Plant in Munster will produce around 100 tonnes of fuel-grade hydrogen and 380 tonnes of graphite each year, with the potential for expansion.
“Hydrogen provides a means to export our world-class solar and wind resources, assisting our international partners to meet emissions reduction goals and assisting our industries to transition to a lower-carbon future,” Ms MacTiernan said.
“Although renewable hydrogen for export is a key opportunity for Western Australia, it will not occur without significant investment and lead time.
“To assist development, we need to build our domestic hydrogen market and skill base.
“Green hydrogen provides a real opportunity to reduce diesel consumption and decarbonise mine site operations, with potential for fuel cells to power fixed and mobile plants, mining vehicles and feedstock.”
In a hydrogen panel for the Petroleum Club in April last year, Hazer Group said the Hazer Process would “capture full value of feedstock by producing two valuable products without creating carbon dioxide in the process”.
The Hazer Process would separate methane gas into hydrogen peroxide and graphite.
The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) describes hydrogen as the most abundant chemical substance in the universe, constituting around 74 per cent of all chemical substances.
However, the gas is rarely found in its pure form on Earth due to the ease with which it forms covalent bonds with most other non-metallic elements.
Instead, hydrogen is most commonly found attached to oxygen, appearing as water, or carbon, appearing as methane gas.
The process of producing hydrogen from methane gas is called fossil fuel reforming, which is a reaction between natural gas and steam.
On the adverse, the separation of hydrogen from water molecules is electrolysis, and is the focus for many companies. This creates what the Government and industry call ‘green’ hydrogen.
Essentially, electrolysis would allow Western Australia to export its unrivalled solar and wind energy electricity.
During the hydrogen panel, ATCO Gas Division President Stevan Green said the key challenges around ‘green’ hydrogen are that production is expensive, there needs to be safe production and utilisation for other uses, and there is a need for regulation at commercial and residential levels.
However, with these expenses comes an opportunity for Australia, and especially WA, to become a world leader in ‘green’ hydrogen exports.
Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel, in the National Hydrogen Strategy, said: “When it comes to capturing and exporting solar and wind electricity by first splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen, clean hydrogen and its derivatives have no equal.
“Energy importing countries are hungry for hydrogen as part of their emissions reduction agenda, and Australia has the potential to supply much of their needs.
“We can be the leader in the new industry I call ’shipping sunshine’.”
Already there is strong interest from some Asian countries in making the move to hydrogen energy.
Japan’s Sustainability Pre-Games Report released at the end of April said that the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games would have 500 fuel cell electric vehicles, with hydrogen being used as “the fuel for the Olympic and Paralympic cauldrons and torches during part of their journey through Japan.
“The Tokyo Metropolitan Government will also use hydrogen energy in some of the Olympic/Paralympic Village facilities.”
The report said this would be in line with Japan’s transition to a hydrogen-based economy.
There is no lack of interest in investing in hydrogen as an export from Australian oil and gas companies.
Woodside Energy invested in the Hydrogen energy Network (HyNet) consortium in March last year, planning to build and operate 100 hydrogen refuelling stations in South Korea.
“Through involvement in HyNet, Woodside will gain valuable insight into the demand and potential for hydrogen in Korea as we explore longer-term opportunities to produce and export hydrogen on a commercial scale,” Woodside CEO Peter Coleman said. “While this is a small investment for Woodside, it gives us an opportunity to gain an early foothold in this emerging market and build our knowledge and relationships.”
In 2018, Shell developed a report into hydrogen as an energy source and has developed dozens of hydrogen stations across Europe, the United Kingdoms, the United States, and Canada in preparation for the transition to fuel cell electric vehicles.
Green hydrogen will also find uses closer to home in Western Australia.
Mining giants BHP, Fortescue, and Anglo American established a green hydrogen consortium in March with Hatch being listed as the project manager and governance facilitator.
The consortium was established to reduce the mining industry’s carbon emissions.
The Western Australia Government has high hopes for the development of a green hydrogen industry in the State, with the aim to have WA’s market share in global hydrogen exports similar to its share in LNG currently.
This is in addition to having renewable energy being widely used in mining haulage vehicles and as a significant fuel source for transportation in regional WA.