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10 October 2019

Australian plans $6.75bn Renewables to Hydrogen plan for Asia

We think perhaps living in Australia makes you think big where energy projects are concerned – there’s the 3,800 km cable to Singapore from a 3 GW solar farm in Oz, and the coal plant aimed entirely at making hydrogen with the electricity it generates for the Japanese car fuel market – now we have another hydrogen project designed to harness 5 GW of renewables electricity from wind and solar across a 120,000 hectare site in the Australian outback.

The idea has been brought to life this week by Siemens talking about it, since it plans to offer up its Silyzer proton exchange membrane electrolyser (PEM), which it has pitched at the Renewable Hydrogen Project at Murchison House Station in Western Australia.

PEMs use no obscure chemicals, and the membrane is permeable to protons, but not to gases such as hydrogen or oxygen, so it acts as a separator which prevents hydrogen and oxygen re-mixing once they have been separated. PEMs are suited to harvesting intermittent energy such as that generated using wind and solar and works at a variety of energy densities.

The plan is to create as much hydrogen as possible and eventually, once it overruns Australia’s needs, export the excess to Asia – in particular South Korea and Japan, which both currently have plans to harness it as fuel for vehicles.

Now that is completely out of step with the rest of the world, who are planning a push into Electric Vehicles, but Japan and South Korea have to import most of the materials to create electricity anyway, so importing hydrogen instead may well be right for their particular economies. Of course it may make it hard to create cars which can be exported the world over, but that’s another issue.

This Renewable Hydrogen Project will be situated near the coastal town of Kalbarri which has the perfect combination of wind and solar and the company behind it Hydrogen Renewables Australia (HRA) has entered into a Heritage Agreement with the local Nanda Aboriginal Corporation (NAC) which has given formal support for the licenses required to proceed.  That deal should be finalized in 2020.

“We believe that Murchison Renewable Hydrogen Project’s location is the best in Australia for combined solar and wind, making it one of the most cost-effective spots to produce clean energy,” said Terry Kallis, Executive Chairman of Hydrogen Renewables Australia.

“We also believe that the project will contribute significantly to the national, state and local objectives for new investment, new jobs, renewable energy sources and new export markets.”

No-one there is talking about there being any risk in any project which creates hydrogen, as this seems to be a growing market – some regions are thinking of using hydrogen for domestic and industrial heating systems, delivered through existing gas mains, while others want to use it for large vehicle or ship fuel, while others still want to use it as a winter fuel for electricity baseload increases. There are also numerous existing uses for hydrogen – so it should find customers for its output even if Japan decides to unify its efforts into EV creation, and not go down the hydrogen route.

The Murchison Renewable Hydrogen Project is proposed to be developed in stages initially as a demonstration phase, outputting hydrogen for Australian transport fuels; then using it in a blend with natural gas to dilute gas’ CO2 emissions and then its final phase to export in volume to the Asian markets.

For Siemens this is a chance to create an exemplar hydrogen business using its equipment, and to have a global reference site for those kinds of volumes. HRA says that it should reach full capacity by 2028, and offer as much as 10% of Asia’s hydrogen demand. Total investment by then may be as high as A$10 billion ($6.75 billion).