Hydrogen is a promising fuel technology to store, transport, and therefore sell, renewable energy – meaning it’s drawn a lot of interest from both governments and business in recent years.

But hydrogen can be an emissions-intensive fuel, too. With the industry still in its nascency, the next five years will see some crucial developments in the production of hydrogen fuel, one way or the other.

So, what can be expected from Australia’s major parties if they win government? Cosmos compares their policies.

The carbon footprint of hydrogen fuel

Before diving into the party plans, it’s worth understanding where hydrogen sits in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.

Hydrogen burns cleanly, producing only water vapour and no greenhouse gases in the process. But making hydrogen can be very emissions-intensive, or very close to emissions-free. (For more on the environmental impact of hydrogen, watch our Cosmos Briefing).

Green hydrogen, made from water and renewable electricity, is the lowest-emissions form of hydrogen.

Grey hydrogen (which currently makes up three-quarters of commercial hydrogen), brown and black hydrogen are all made from fossil fuels, releasing emissions in the process.

Blue hydrogen sits between green and grey. It’s emissions-intensive hydrogen, made with carbon capture and storage to prevent those emissions getting into the atmosphere – or with other carbon offsets bought to account for it.

There’s debate about the environmental impact of blue hydrogen – depending on the quality of carbon capture used, it could be nearly as emissions-intensive as grey or brown hydrogen, or it could be almost as clean as green.

It’s also worth noting that, while many countries and companies are planning for it, the hydrogen energy industry doesn’t exist yet.

Hydrogen is still too expensive to make at scale, and the infrastructure to store, transport, and use it hasn’t been built. Scientific research is still needed to find the best ways to do each of these things.

The Liberal-National Coalition has thrown considerable weight behind hydrogen in its low-emissions plans.

Its $1.4 billion National Hydrogen Strategy includes investment in research to make, store and transport hydrogen; the development of seven hydrogen hubs in regional Australia; and a series of international deals to develop hydrogen supply chains.

The Coalition has focussed on “clean” hydrogen – that is, both blue and green hydrogen.

The first test shipment of hydrogen to Japan, done in January, contained emissions-intensive hydrogen that was made blue by the purchase of carbon offsets, for instance. Some of the countries the government has negotiated deals with, such as Germany, have specified that they will only buy green hydrogen.

The Labor Party doesn’t have a specific hydrogen strategy, rolling it into its Powering Australia policy.

This strategy includes $3 billion allocated for investment in green manufacturing, including hydrogen electrolysers.

Green hydrogen depends on electrolysers to work, and the other colours in the hydrogen rainbow don’t.

The Labor Party is also planning to support the growth of the green hydrogen industry in the regions.

The Greens’ hydrogen policy focusses on green hydrogen – including an ambitious plan to export large amounts of it.

Its $4.5 billion Green Hydrogen Australia fund would establish the infrastructure to make and export green ammonia, specifically – thought to be one of the most effective ways to store and transport hydrogen.

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