The world’s first carrier of liquefied hydrogen has arrived at Victoria’s Port of Hastings to pick up its inaugural cargo and transport it to Japan, marking a major milestone for the emerging industry.
The Suiso Frontier’s upcoming voyage carrying super-cooled liquid hydrogen from a Japanese-Australian consortium’s $500 million pilot project in the Latrobe Valley to Kobe in Japan will be the first worldwide to transport liquid hydrogen by sea to an international market.
Hydrogen – which emits only water when it burns – is seen as a promising future tool for decarbonisation as long as the process of manufacturing it is also emissions-free. Governments are increasingly looking to hydrogen for its ability to store and transport energy generated from renewables and clean up difficult-to-decarbonise parts of the economy.
Japan, the top buyer of Australian liquefied natural gas (LNG), has set a target of “net-zero” emissions by 2050 and is betting on hydrogen to diminish the role of fossil fuels in its energy mix.
The Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain (HESC) pilot project, led by a consortium including Japan’s J-Power, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Shell and AGL, is demonstrating the conversion of Latrobe Valley brown coal into hydrogen gas.
If it becomes commercial, the project would be paired with carbon capture and storage (CCS) to trap emissions before they enter the atmosphere and bury them in depleted gas reservoirs in Bass Strait.
“The 225,000 tonnes of carbon-neutral liquefied hydrogen produced by HESC in a commercial phase will contribute to reducing global carbon-dioxide emissions by some 1.8 million tonnes per year – equivalent to the emissions of about 350,000 petrol-driven cars,” the consortium said.
The project is supported by the Japanese, Australian and Victorian governments. The Morrison government on Friday will announce a further $7.5 million to support its pre-commercialisation phase and $20 million for the CCS project.
“The HESC project has the potential to become a major source of clean energy which will help Australia and Japan both reach our goals of net-zero emissions by 2050,” federal Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor said.
“The arrival of the liquefied hydrogen carrier today cements Australia’s position as a world leader in hydrogen.”
However, the project’s use of coal combined with CCS — a divisive area of climate policy — has drawn criticism from environmentalists who argue the technology’s success at large scale is unproven and fear it could prolong the use of fossil fuels.
Climate groups and some hydrogen developers, including mining magnate Andrew Forrest, insist “green” hydrogen — produced when renewable energy powers an electrolyser to split water into hydrogen and oxygen — is the only clean form of the fuel, and have condemned the use of taxpayer money to fund hydrogen made using fossil fuels.
“It’s still dirty energy with an attempt to bury the pollution problem,” Environment Victoria’s Greg Foyster said. “We should be using energy from the sun and wind to create genuinely green hydrogen, not using brown coal that produces more pollution.”
Chevron’s huge Gorgon CCS project in WA last year failed to meet a crucial target of capturing and burying an average of 80 per cent of the carbon dioxide produced from its gas reservoirs.
Western Port community groups held a small protest as the ship sailed past on Thursday, saying they were concerned dredging might accompany any increase in large-scale shipping in the bay. They are also worried about the danger of the introduction of marine pests into the region, which includes a Ramsar-listed wetland, such as the Northern Pacific sea star and Japanese kelp.
“Unique marine biodiversity must be protected from inappropriate industrial and development proposals … now and into the future,” Save Westernport spokesperson Jane Carnegie said
With employment in fossil fuel industries set to shrink as the world continues to decarbonise, the promise of jobs in a new hydrogen sector has been central to both the federal government and opposition’s pitch to voters ahead of the election. Labor and the Coalition have pledged to invest in hydrogen research and development and work with private companies to create blue-collar jobs in regional industrial hubs.
Backers of the Latrobe Valley hydrogen project, including the Morrison government, say it could eventually generate up to 30,000 jobs in Victoria.
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