Green hydrogen – exporting WA sunshine to the world

Imagine a Western Australian economy powered by a clean fuel made from water, wind and sunshine, and imagine that when that fuel is used to power vehicles and industry the only waste products are water and warm air.

This may seem like the stuff of fantasy but it’s not; in fact, it’s a description of green hydrogen, a rapidly growing component of the renewable energy sector.

WA – Australia’s green hydrogen state

Western Australia is set to become Australia’s green hydrogen state with the country’s largest commercial green hydrogen plant, powered by solar and wind energy, to be built at Dongara, 351 kilometres northwest of Perth.

Operated by new energy company, Infinite Blue Energy (IBE), the “Arrowsmith” facility will be powered by solar panels, wind turbines and batteries and will initially produce 25 tonnes of green hydrogen each day when production starts in 2022.  Although the plant is the first of its kind in Western Australia, hydrogen plants are under development in Victoria, South Australia and Queensland as part of green hydrogen’s predicted massive growth trajectory across the planet.

International energy market analysts, Wood Mackenzie, recently reported that more than 3.2 gigawatts of green hydrogen capacity might be deployed between now and 2025, a 1,272 % increase on the 253 megawatts installed from 2000 to the end of 2019. Significantly Wood Mackenzie found that, “only Australia will be able to produce green hydrogen competitive with natural-gas-based hydrogen.”

Infinite Blue Energy is the creation of a number of former gas executives including CEO Stephen Gauld, who spent decades working in the oil and gas industry in Scotland, the Middle East and Asia before moving to Australia.

“Most of our team has 20 years minimum in the oil and gas sector,” Stephen told Clean State recently. “When the oil business crashed in 2014, we decided to transition to renewable energy.”

The Infinite Blue Energy Management team, Tim Hodge, Stephen Gauld, Yolanda Zhao, Chris Burton (L-R). Credit: IBE.

He says IBE’s big success has been moving at the right time; staying ahead of some of the big players who are now entering the hydrogen space.

Stephen also says that the COVID-19 crisis has changed the operational outlook for many Australian businesses. He recently told Renew Economy that “what is now needed to be market leading is a uniquely competitive and innovative offering that has not been done before; one with a sustainable carbon footprint that can truly accelerate Australia’s economic growth in regional areas.” 

“As we transition from fossil fuels, and thus reduce demand for fossil fuels, renewable energy needs to take over. We need to start the transition, reduce our carbon footprint and meet the Paris agreements that Australia must deliver by 2025.”

Green trucks and tractors

Green hydrogen is key to solving the challenge of storing and transporting energy produced from solar and wind generation. It is also a perfect replacement for diesel and petrol in the farming and transport sector.

The hydrogen produced by the Arrowsmith plant will allow for the first Australian trials of hydrogen-powered tractors, trucks and buses, with international truck manufacturers planning two shipments of hydrogen-powered semitrailers into NSW and WA in the next 12 months.

Hydrogen Fuelled Tractor

Stephen Gauld envisages diesel tractors eventually being replaced by a new generation of hydrogen tractors across WA’s agricultural sector.

“We see green hydrogen as a fantastic growth industry for regional Australia that stands to benefit all Australians in the years to come.”

300 new jobs

The benefits of Australia’s biggest green hydrogen development won’t just be environmental, with the creation of at least 300 jobs predicted at the Arrowsmith plant.

“Most of these jobs will be in the Dongara area and we are looking to hire people locally. The plant will be expanded every two, three years. We’re expecting to keep employment rates high: 200, 300 jobs continuously for the next four, five years.

And in a boon for the concept of a “just transition” Stephen says the skills of workers currently employed in the gas industry should be readily transferable into green hydrogen.

The real economic and employment bonus, however, will be in exporting green hydrogen, particularly to a potentially huge Asian market.

The CSIRO predicted that this market will reach 3.8 million tonnes by 2030. Australian production will have to increase exponentially to meet this demand and Western Australia is uniquely placed to meet this challenge.

Hydrogen Fuelled Bus | Credit: Ruth Sharville

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