By Alex Kimani
Back in July, the European Union unveiled a hydrogen strategy that immediately captured the imagination of the renewables world and was hailed as the most ambitious hydrogen plan ever. The EU’s ambitious new hydrogen strategy laid out plans to install 40 gigawatts of electrolyzers within the region’s borders and also support the development of another 40 gigawatts of green hydrogen in nearby countries that have the capacity to export the regional powerhouse. The EU is an economic and political union of 27 European countries.
However, a single country could soon rival an entire regional bloc …
The Australian government has announced that it will fast-track the development of some of the world’s largest wind and solar projects geared towards the production of green hydrogen.
Last week, Canberra announced that it had awarded “major project status” to the Asian Renewable Energy Hub (AREH). The move will accelerate the development of 15,000MW wind and solar power for the production of hydrogen and ammonia for export to the Asia-Pacific region with plans to scale that up to 26,000MW, making it the largest of its kind in the world.
AREH’s project director Brendan Hammond says the 15,000MW project is AREH’s first, with plans to expand it to 26,000MW of hybrid wind and solar that will power electrolyzers for the production of green hydrogen and green ammonia.
The first phase of the Kalbarri project aims to blend the hydrogen directly with natural gas due to the challenges of transporting raw hydrogen. To illustrate its true potential, consider that at full capacity, AREH could generate up to 100 terawatt-hours a year, or nearly 40% of Australia generated 265 terawatt-hours last year.
AREH has an important precedent: The UK became one of the first countries to successfully implement grid injection of hydrogen, essentially blending hydrogen gas with natural gas in a 1:4 ratio. That might sound modest, but actually is the highest in Europe. A 20% volume blend allows customers to continue using their existing natural gas appliances with no need for major adjustments. ITM Power estimates that a natural gas/hydrogen blend of similar proportions rolled out across the entire country could save up to ~6 million tonnes of CO2 emissions every year, comparable to taking 2.5 million cars off the roads.
Australia plans to complete this phase of its green hydrogen strategy in just two years.
AREH’s second phase will involve compressing and supercooling hydrogen just like we do with LNG then exporting it to Asian nations like Singapore, Korea, and Japan. This phase could kick off in about four years and take another three years to fully ramp up production.
The third phase of the project actually is the most exciting: Using green hydrogen to manufacture green steel for export. The global steel industry accounts for ~7% of global carbon emissions, giving you an idea of how polluting this sector is. But more and more customers are expected to start demanding green steel made from renewable energy much the same way global customers have started demanding cleaner natural gas.
In a clear sign of the times, French power company Engie SA ENGI was recently forced to abandon a multibillion-dollar contract to export LNG to the U.S. due to pressure by the French government on environmental concerns. This could very well become a standard requirement for the vast fossil fuel ecosystem.
Japan’s Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain
The Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain (HESC) is a joint Japanese-Australian project that aims to produce plentiful, affordable fuel for Japan.
A big chunk of Australia’s hydrogen exports will head to Japan, a country whose mountainous terrain and extreme seismic activity render it unsuitable for the development of sustainable renewable energy. The Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain will attempt to establish a durable supply of liquid hydrogen from Australia, to be used as fuel in Japan. However, this hydrogen will be the grey type because it will be extracted from lignite, aka brown coal.
Germany’s cabinet recently committed to invest €9B (about $10.2B) in hydrogen technology in a bid to decarbonize the economy and cut CO2 emissions. The government has proposed to build an electrolysis capacity of 5,000MW by 2030 and another 5,000MW by 2040 over the following decade to produce fuel hydrogen.
This is just the latest evidence that the hydrogen economy is finally ready to take off, with Middle East countries well endowed with high solar insolation; coal-rich countries like Australia, gas-rich countries like Russia as well as highly industrialized energy-importing countries in Asia and Europe all expressing a keen interest in hydrogen.
Overall, the hydrogen marketplace is on track to hit $11 trillion. Investors are loving it, and the game is on to find the best places to part your hydrogen money.