Australia Just Exported Its First Batch of Fuel That Doesn’t Emit CO2. There’s Just One Catch

When the 380-foot-long Suiso Frontier set sail from Australia on Friday, sure for Japan with liquid hydrogen in its insulated maintain, it marked the primary time that liquified hydrogen has been transported by sea to a global market, in line with undertaking individuals.

Consultants say that it’s an essential milestone for hydrogen—a gasoline that a number of main economies have pinned their hopes on to assist them decarbonize. It proves that the availability chain works, they argue, and can kick off worldwide commerce within the commodity.

“Australia’s first hydrogen liquefaction facility and ship loading terminal, the world’s first liquid hydrogen service ship, and a hydrogen unloading and storage facility in Kobe, Japan,” have been developed up to now, says Jeremy Stone, a non-executive director of J-Energy. The Japanese utility firm runs a hydrogen-producing facility within the Latrobe Valley within the Australian state of Victoria. “We’ve confirmed a whole lot of issues that just about all hydrogen tasks can make the most of,” he tells TIME.
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However there’s one catch: the undertaking makes use of brown coal (additionally known as “lignite”), a high-emitting power supply, to provide the hydrogen. In truth, virtually all the hydrogen used in the present day is constituted of fossil fuels. Growing “inexperienced” hydrogen, produced when renewable power (like wind and solar energy) powers an electrolyzer to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen, is a key precedence for locations just like the U.S., China, the E.U., Japan and South Korea. However inexperienced hydrogen isn’t commercially viable but.

The Hydrogen Power Provide Chain (HESC) undertaking, which has been funded by the Australian and Japanese governments, produced the hydrogen being shipped to Japan from lignite and biomass at a newly constructed gasification plant. It was then trucked to a liquefaction facility within the port of Hastings, the place it was cooled to -253°C, liquifying it to lower than 800 instances its gaseous quantity. Then it was loaded onto the specially-designed ship—with a vacuum-insulated, double-shell storage tank, harking back to a huge espresso thermos—constructed by Japan’s Kawasaki Heavy Industries.

Francois Aguey-Zinsou, a professor on the College of Sydney who’s an skilled on hydrogen expertise, says there are a number of technical challenges in delivery liquid hydrogen—like needing a really properly insulated vessel to maintain the hydrogen on the proper temperature, with a low leakage price, so it doesn’t escape.

Among the hydrogen will should be vented so the strain within the vessel doesn’t trigger it to burst. Then there’s the loading and unloading. “How do you refill a ship with liquid hydrogen? You’ll be able to’t pump hydrogen at -253°C. There aren’t any pumps to do this on the scale required for delivery or to refill a ship in an efficient method,” he says.

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Finally, the plan is for the emissions from burning coal within the Latrobe Valley facility to be collected by way of a course of generally known as carbon seize and storage (CCS)—a expertise that some local weather consultants have criticized as an costly, far-fetched pipe dream. If that works, the undertaking may assist cut back world emissions by 1.8 million metric tons per yr—about the identical as taking 350,000 vehicles off the highway, in line with individuals.

For now, the HESC is in its pilot section, and the builders are shopping for carbon credit to offset the emissions it produces till the CCS section begins working. They plan to proceed analysis and improvement to extend the quantity of hydrogen that may be exported, and to run extra check shipments.

The undertaking additionally must acquire some regulatory approvals, discover consumers for the hydrogen it produces, examine enterprise mannequin choices and enhance the expertise it makes use of to scale back prices. Industrial operations are anticipated to begin someday within the 2030s. In the event that they go properly, there are plans to hyperlink up with the CarbonNet CCS undertaking. Presently beneath improvement, CarbonNet would seize emissions from burning coal, compress them and retailer them deep beneath the Bass Strait, which separates mainland Australia and Tasmania.

The potential of the HESC undertaking

As international locations try to scale back their carbon emissions with the intention to meet world local weather objectives, hydrogen is more and more turning into an essential gasoline supply. At the very least 17 governments have launched hydrogen methods, in line with the Worldwide Power Company (IEA), and the Worldwide Renewable Power Company (IRENA). The Abu-Dhabi based mostly intergovernmental group just lately printed a report that discovered hydrogen may cowl as much as 12% of world power use by 2050.

Consultants say that the cargo of liquid hydrogen is a vital milestone for hydrogen expertise. Though others are engaged on methods to move hydrogen and it has been shipped in different varieties, that is the primary time that “pure” hydrogen has been shipped. “No person has performed that at scale earlier than,” says Aguey-Zinsou.”It’s a giant deal. Clearly it’s [currently] not economically viable, clearly there are a whole lot of technical challenges, however what HSEC is doing is definitely creating the market,” he says.

Clear power advocates need to see Australia rework itself from a prime coal and liquified pure gasoline (LNG) exporter right into a renewable power superpower, and so they hope that Australia will use its sunny skies and windswept coastlines to generate renewable power that may produce inexperienced hydrogen. The nation is aiming to develop into a “main participant” in world hydrogen manufacturing and commerce by 2030, and it is without doubt one of the finest positioned on this planet to develop into a number one clear hydrogen producer, in line with an IRENA report.

World's First Liquid Hydrogen Carrier Suiso Frontier In Australia
Carla Gottgens/Bloomberg by way of Getty Pictures Members of the media in entrance of the Suiso Frontier liquid hydrogen service on the Port of Hastings in Hastings, Victoria, Australia, on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022.

Japan is already Australia’s greatest purchaser of LNG and coal and, as Japan appears to decarbonize, HESC undertaking individuals say that it’s essential for Australia to point out it could step as much as provide new power exports. The nation wants to ensure it’s aggressive and dependable, as different international locations could also be vying for a similar hydrogen provide chains, Stone says.

Hydrogen is very essential for Japan, which presently depends on imported fossil fuels for nearly 90% of its power wants. It was the primary nation on this planet to launch a nationwide hydrogen technique in 2017 and—given the backlash in opposition to nuclear gasoline within the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear catastrophe—plans to make use of hydrogen for electrical energy technology, steel-making and petrochemical manufacturing. It desires to have 200,000 fuel-cell autos, that are powered by hydrogen, on the highway by 2025.

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Japan performed a pivotal position in using LNG by opting to import the gasoline greater than 50 years in the past, with Kawasaki Heavy Industries turning into a serious LNG tanker producer. Now, authorities authorities and the corporate seem like partnering up on the same plan for hydrogen.

Japan is positioning itself to “management key elements of the hydrogen economic system,” says Aguey-Zinsou. “They see the potential market progress and financial profit. Past simply importing hydrogen from Australia, you might have all of the expertise behind that, all the assorted elements, bits and items which can be wanted to make that economic system occur. It’s like Taiwan and the management of [semiconductor] chips.”

Environmental misgivings about liquid hydrogen

Not everybody believes the HESC undertaking is the climate-friendly endeavor it purports to be. Critics be aware that it depends on unproven CCS expertise, and argue that it’ll create new makes use of for fossil fuels at a time when the world ought to be transitioning away from them.

Though the IEA says that it will likely be “nearly unimaginable” to succeed in web zero with out utilizing CCS expertise, some local weather consultants say CCS won’t ever be reasonably priced sufficient to make it an efficient software to scale back emissions.

“There’s a faculty of thought that claims that local weather change is such an pressing downside that we have to throw each accessible choice at it together with issues like fossil-fuel derived hydrogen,” says Tim Baxter, a senior researcher on the Local weather Council. “The counterpoint is that local weather change is such an pressing downside that we will’t afford to waste time by starting a brand new fossil gasoline business.”

Stone says that even when individuals don’t agree with their strategy, the infrastructure they construct can be utilized to move inexperienced hydrogen sooner or later.

However some local weather consultants disapprove of Australia’s hydrogen plans extra broadly, no matter any future plans to make the manufacturing of the gasoline a zero-emissions endeavor. Based on an evaluation by the Heart for Strategic and Worldwide Research (CSIS) think-tank, the Australian authorities’s hydrogen technique is “extra centered on financial objectives than it’s on local weather objectives.”

The nation has actually dragged its toes on local weather motion, and has confronted criticism for its refusal to shift away from coal and gasoline.

“Zero-emissions hydrogen [produced from renewable energy] represents a extremely, actually important alternative for Australia,” says Baxter. “Sadly, the Australian authorities—in its sprint for hydrogen—is form of taking an strategy that each one hydrogen is an efficient factor.”


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