New analysis suggests the emission benefits of a controversial brown coal to hydrogen project may be much higher than claimed, while new polling shows people are confused by the term ‘clean hydrogen’.
The Australia Institute said documents released by the federal government in response to a freedom of information request suggest the emissions benefits of the Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain (HESC) project may be overstated, and could lead to an overall increase in emissions.
The project aims to produce hydrogen from Victorian supplies of brown coal through a process of gasification, while accounting for the resulting carbon dioxide emissions in carbon capture and storage facilities.
The FOI documents show the claimed potential lifetime emissions reductions that could be achieved by the HESC project – 1.8 million tonnes – were based on a comparison between the HESC project using CCS technologies and unabated hydrogen produced using fossil fuels and steam methane reforming techniques without the use of CCS.
The documents also show the Morrison government relied on HESC’s own assessment of its claimed emissions reduction without undertaking its own analysis.
The Australia Institute says the assumptions are flawed, because the emissions comparison should be made against “green hydrogen”, supplied by renewables, which would show an increase in emissions from the brown coal venture, not a fall.
“The claim is based on the misleading comparison between the theoretical emissions best-case scenario for hydrogen made from brown coal gasification with CCS, with hydrogen made from fossil gas without CCS,” The Australia Institute’s report says.
“When compared to the equivalent production of renewable hydrogen, which is a zero-emissions production process for hydrogen, the HESC project (without CCS) would add between 2.9 and 3.8 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, the equivalent to adding 550,000- 735,000 petrol cars to the road.”
The project has received substantial government backing, around $100 million in federal and state government funding towards its total $500 million project cost, and has, to date, produced a minuscule amount of hydrogen.
The project has spent an estimated $500 million to undertake a demonstration of hydrogen exports from Australia, which culminated in the first shipment of hydrogen to Japan using a dedicated ship in January.
(See our story from 2018: Turnbull’s brown coal hydrogen horror show: $500m for 3 tonnes)
Despite the considerable expense, the project contributed just 1 tonne of hydrogen to a maiden shipment to Japan, with the project forced to purchase additional supplies of hydrogen from other suppliers to meet the minimum volume required for shipment.
The Australia Institute’s climate and energy program director Richie Merzian said it IS concerning the Morrison government had asserted the emissions benefits of the project without undertaking its own analysis to verify the claims of the project’s proponents.
“The federal government needs to finalise its delayed certification process for hydrogen production, to remove the marketing confusion and elevate zero emissions hydrogen made using renewable energy,” Merzian said.
The latest revelations come as The Australia Institute publishes the results of polling on the public understanding of the term ‘clean hydrogen’, which shows almost a third of people are not sure what the term means.
Forty-two per cent of respondents to the poll said they considered ‘clean hydrogen’ to refer only to hydrogen produced using renewable energy sources.
Less than a quarter of respondents said they also considered hydrogen produced from fossil fuels and combined with carbon capture and storage technologies to be ‘clean hydrogen’ – despite both the Morrison government and several major gas companies using the term to refer to hydrogen produced using fossil gas.
“Clean hydrogen is a marketing term, not a climate solution. It is designed to sell dirty high-polluting hydrogen made using gas and coal as ‘clean’,” Merzian said.
“The Australia Institute polling shows that the term is succeeding in sowing confusion, with 72 per cent of people not realising ‘clean hydrogen’ can include fossil fuels or renewables.”
“Clean hydrogen with fossil fuels relies on the same failed carbon capture and storage technology to bury emissions as ‘clean coal’ and it is just as unsuccessful. If hydrogen is supposed to be a climate solution and act as an alternative to fossil fuels, it can’t be based on fossil fuels in any way.”