US-based hydrogen technology company Plug Power has emerged as the major partner for billionaire Andrew Forrest’s plans to build the world’s biggest electrolyser manufacturing facility in Queensland.
Plug Power and Fortescue Future Industries have signed a letter of intent to create a 50-50 joint venture to build the “Gigafactory” in Queensland, aiming to produce 2 gigawatts a year of hydrogen electrolysers, with potential expansion into fuel cells and hydrogen-related refuelling and storage infrastructure.
The massive factory near Gladstone, located in the heart of the state’s coal and gas industry, was flagged earlier this week by Forrest as part of his massive push into green energy, and also includes plans to also build wind turbines and solar PV cells.
“We need solar panels, wind towers, and electrolysers in such scale that we need to produce them where we use them – including in Australia,” FFI chief executive Julie Shuttleworth said in a joint statement issued overnight.
“We have enough solar and wind in Australia to power many countries of the world. Working together with Plug Power, we can create this future.”
The scale of Forrest’s ambition was revealed in a speech to the National Press Club on Thursday, where – apart from slamming the “fear mongers” and Chicken Littles” in the federal government for resisting the green energy transition, and even a net zero target by 2050 – Forrest spoke of the scale of his plans.
“So far, Fortescue Future Industries, or FFI, has secured 300GW of renewable resources in Africa, Australia, Asia, Central Asia, Europe, Latin America and New Zealand – over four times Australia’s current capacity,” Forrest said.
And he said the new manufacturing centre planned for Queensland would be replicated at multiple sites across the country.
“We are taking the Green Energy Manufacturing centre at Gladstone and replicating it across Australia, at tens of sites all over the country – creating the foundation for new industries in green ammonia, green iron, green steel, green fertiliser and green cement, with thousands of jobs at each location.”
The deal means that Plug Power will supply the electrolyzer and fuel cell technology – it uses a technology known proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolysers – and FFI will contribute advanced manufacturing capabilities.
FFI will be the primary customer of the products manufactured by the joint venture, enabling its ambitions in decarbonizing its operations with stationary power and mobility applications running on green hydrogen.
FFI will also purchase 250MW of Plug Power’s electrolyzer solutions, which are used to create hydrogen and oxygen from water, for its Australian projects before the new factory is built.
Plug Power will supply these first electrolysers from its existing gigafactory in Rochester, New York, with delivery planned for the second half of 2022.
It last week announced it would build a second gigafactory in South Korea as part of a joint venture with that country’s SK Group conglomerate. SK earlier this year invested $1.5 billion in Plug Power, giving it a 10 per cent stake in the company.
The Gladstone factory will be its third, and biggest, gigafactory to date.
“Australia and New Zealand will be a big market opportunity for our green hydrogen ecosystem of electrolyzers, fuel cells, and green hydrogen,” said Plug Power President and CEO Andy Marsh. “This year, we will do megawatts of deployment in these markets, and gigawatts in the coming years.
Plug Power claims to have created the first commercially viable market for hydrogen fuel cell technology, and has deployed more than 50,000 fuel cell systems for e-mobility, more than anyone else in the world.
It says it has also become the largest buyer of liquid hydrogen, having built and operated a “hydrogen highway across North America”, including a network of over 150 hydrogen refueling stations.
Both companies will fund the joint venture equally and will have equal representation on the board of the joint venture.