Forrest to build massive hydrogen, wind, solar and cabling factory in Queensland

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Iron ore billionaire Andrew Forrest has unveiled plans to build a massive green energy manufacturing centre in central Queensland, focusing initially on hydrogen electrolysers before also moving on to wind turbine equipment, solar PV cells, and electrical cabling.

The announcement – made by Fortescue Future Industries and the Queensland state government ton Sunday  – thrusts Australia into the new era of green industry manufacturing and energy production centres, and it’s no accident that it will be located around Gladstone, the hub of that state’s coal and LNG industries.

Forrest’s plans are – as usual – extremely ambitious. The six-stage project will start with a plan to establish Australia’s first multi-gigawatt-scale electrolyser factory, with an initial capacity of 2 gigawatts (GW) per annum – more than doubling current global production.

This will provide hundreds of jobs in both construction and over the project lifetime, but thousands more could be created as the centre expands into the manufacture of wind turbines, solar PV cells and other infrastructure, helping to transform regional Australia through green industries.

“FFI’s goal is to become the world’s leading, integrated, fully renewable energy and green products company, powering the Australian economy and creating jobs for Australia as we transition away from fossil fuels,” CEO Julie Shuttleworth said in a statement.

“Our manufacturing arm, starting with electrolysers and expanding to all other required green industry products, will herald great potential for green manufacturing and employment in regional Australia.”

The massive and ground-breaking investment by one of the Australia’s richest people contrasts vividly with the anti-green industry and anti-renewable rhetoric of the federal Nationals, particularly those located in Queensland who seem interested only in protecting the coal industry.

But there is a major change sweeping Australia’s boardrooms, with even the Business Council of Australia backflipping from its claims that an ambitious climate target would “economy wrecking”, to now proposing a 50 per cent emissions cut by 2030 so Australia will not be left behind the rest of the world.

FFI’s Shuttleworth said she expected Gladstone will become an epicentre for Queensland’s green hydrogen ambitions, building on its skilled workforce,”its great foresight in industrial master-planning, a world class port, and a constructive and supportive State Government.”

Subject to customer demand, the total investment could be up to or in excess of AU$1 billion as orders firm for electrolysers and other green industry equipment. The initial electrolyser investment is expected to be up to AU$114 million, with the first electrolysers scheduled for production in early 2023.

FFI itself will be the biggest initial customer, presumably to kick start its own hugely ambitious green hydrogen plans. Forrest has declared that he wants to build more than 100GW of renewable hydrogen capacity by 2030. He says the global renewable hydrogen market could be worth $16 trillion by 2050.

“As GEM (Green Energy Manufacturing Centre) develops according to FFI’s own requirements and other customer needs, manufacturing will come roaring back to regional Australia, creating many thousands of jobs,” Forrest said in a statement.

“Fortescue is again ahead of the curve … this initiative is a critical step in Fortescue’s transition from a highly successful pure play iron ore producer, to an even more successful green renewables and resources powerhouse.”

Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said Gladstone would become a world leading hub for the manufacture of electrolysers – vital to the production of renewable hydrogen.

“We’re seeing growing interest globally in renewable hydrogen,” she said. “We don’t just want to export our resources – we want to develop a manufacturing industry capable of making the electrolysers in Queensland as well.

State treasurer and minister for trade and investment Cameron Dick said developing a renewable hydrogen industry was a vital next step in maintaining Queensland’s dominance as a global energy superpower.

“FFI could have built this facility anywhere in Australia. The fact they chose Queensland says volumes about our state’s advanced plan to use our sun, wind and water to create new jobs and new businesses in regional Queensland,” he said.

“We are harnessing the momentum of the massive revolution that is underway in global energy production, and we are doing it for the benefit of all Queenslanders.

Minister for energy, renewables and hydrogen Mick de Brenni said manufacturing hydrogen and the equipment needed to produce it would mean Queensland would export its renewable energy as well as its technological know-how.

“The world is rapidly decarbonising and that presents new opportunities for more jobs here in Queensland,” de Brenni said. “Onshoring manufacture of hydrogen industry components means enduring benefits for Queenslanders all the way through the value chain, as part of the global industrial transformation.”

Australia has little in the way of manufacturing for hydrogen, or the wind and solar industries. Some plants – both established and planned – were cancelled when the Howard government scuppered the then renewable energy target in 2006, although some basic assembly and wind turbine manufacturing does occur.

Forrest’s announcement follows news on Friday that FFI had bought a majority stake in Dutch solar PV and hydrogen technology company HyET, with a view to setting up a 1GW manufacturing facility in Australia.

HyET boasts a new ultra lightweight and flexible solar technology that it says can deliver a sharp reduction in costs because it will remove the need for much of the supporting infrastructure.

Simon Currie, the principal of Energy Estate, which is developing more than 3GW of renewable and storage projects in the region, in a joint venture with RES, says he is thrilled with this announcement.    

“The Queensland Government have shown the world how you can gracefully and practically support the energy transition through a focus on training and capacity building,” he said in a statement.

Update: See also Monday’s announcement: Fortescue plans Australia’s first major green ammonia plant near Brisbane

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