Last week, energy ministers voted to adopt a National Hydrogen Strategy. But what does this mean for industry as Australia transitions to a low-carbon economy?
At a meeting of the Coalition of Australian Government (COAG) Energy Council this past Friday, ministers voted to adopt the National Hydrogen Strategy developed by a working group headed by chief scientist Dr Alan Finkel.
In a joint statement, ministers said there is potential to tap into emerging hydrogen export opportunities to Asia and Europe, and Australia is well-placed to serve this growing demand. They added that the National Hydrogen Strategy opens up opportunities for domestic use of hydrogen in the industrial, transport, mining and energy sectors.
“While these opportunities may be small at present, beyond 2030 they could play an important role in reducing energy prices and Australia’s emissions, as well as the emissions of other countries,” the statement said, adding that the strategy calls on Federal, State and Territory governments to create social and regulatory frameworks which help Australia’s hydrogen sector expand.
Following the release of the strategy, the Federal Government announced that it will set aside $370 million from existing funding for the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) and Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to back new hydrogen projects.
Transparency of sources
Hydrogen can be produced from a number of sources with varying greenhouse gas emissions — including the gasification of brown coal and hydrolysis of water with excess renewable energy. Another technology working towards commercialisation is the Hazer process, which converts natural gas and iron ore into hydrogen and synthetic graphite.
According to Professor Frank Jotzo, who directs the Centre for Climate and Energy Policy at Australian National University (ANU), ‘brown’ hydrogen produced from coal would have significant remaining emissions, even if combined with carbon capture and storage technology.
“That process is likely cheaper at the start, but it would bump up Australia’s emissions, and it could mean stranded assets when emissions constraints bite, and if importers shun coal-based hydrogen in future,” he said.
While they will pursue a technology-neutral approach to hydrogen production, the COAG Energy Council has agreed Australia should take a leading role in tracking and certifying the emissions intensity and origin of hydrogen. The National Hydrogen Strategy recommends tackling this by developing an international guarantee of origin scheme.
Skilling up the workforce
According to the National Hydrogen Strategy, taking advantage of the increasing global momentum towards clean hydrogen and establishing an export industry could generate thousands of new jobs and billions of dollars in economic growth between now and 2050.
But to scale up successfully, there will need to be a focus on ensuring that the workforce gains the skills needed to support growth and make sure that the hydrogen sector is safe and earns the trust and confidence of the public.
In a submission to the National Hydrogen Strategy consultation process, Engineers Australia said this would include training a skilled workforce that can plan for the whole hydrogen energy process. This process spans the modelling and design of grid wind and solar powered electrolysers, hydrogen storage and transport, ammonia production from hydrogen for transport and storage, and membrane technology for conversion of ammonia back to hydrogen.
The submission added that industry will also need workers skilled in the manufacture, installation and operation of electrolysers, fuel cells and membranes — as well as proficiency in technology for transport of ammonia and fuel cell conversion to hydrogen for heavy transport and power generation.
Monitoring the progress of the hydrogen sector as it grows — and keeping up with global developments — will also be important. The National Hydrogen Strategy says that it is designed to be updated and revisited as the industry develops and Australia tracks its progress on measures of success such as being a top three supplier to the Asian market and maintaining an impeccable safety record.
“The vision we set today, and the actions we plan, are not enough if we aren’t prepared to measure our progress and ultimately our successes,” the strategy reads.