Garnaut, CEFC push hydrogen to make Australia renewable power-house

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Ross Garnaut and CEFC are championing the use of hydrogen to turn Australia into a renewable energy powerhouse, and creating a “solar fuel” export industry that could match fossil fuels. But the Japanese seem more focused on hydrogen from brown coal.

Toyota's Mirai fuel cell vehicle promotion puts heavy emphasis on renewable energy.
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Leading economist Professor Ross Garnaut and two government renewable energy agencies are championing the use of hydrogen to exploit Australia’s massive solar and wind resources.

They say it would make Australia a renewable energy powerhouse, allowing to build huge arrays of solar fields, and creating an export industry of “solar fuels” to northern Asia that would rival the coal and gas export industries.

At a conference in Sydney this week, Professor Garnaut – who was the Labor government advisor on climate change – also said the use of zero emissions hydrogen could also attract energy intensive industries to Australia using cheap renewable energy, making Australia a super-power” of the global low-carbon economy.

“Australia has more opportunities in the low-carbon future than in the fossil fuels of the past,” he told the 6th World Hydrogen Technologies Convention.

“Australia will be the world’s lowest cost source of renewable energy …. and Australia will become the logical location for energy intensive industries.”

Oliver Yates, the CEO of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, agreed, saying that hydrogen was the next big step to make renewable energy rival and overtake fossil fuels. “Australia is blessed with unlimited renewable energy resources. It has unlimited amounts of sun, and wind and wave,” Yates told the conference in a keynote address.

451028-130803-b-first-solar“Creating an export market for those resources is a natural step for our economy.” He noted that Australia has “hundreds and hundreds” of gigawatts of stranded (meaning undeveloped) renewable energy around Australia. “It is perfect for hydrogen. It is stranded, it’s cheap and it’s available.”

Yates is also excited about the possibilities of creating a network of hydrogen refueling stations across Australia, particularly following the National Broadband Network in regional areas, where the cost of transport fuels is prohibitive.

“We like the hydrogen space, it is versatile, transportable and flexible … and it is economic in regional Australia right now.

The idea of renewable hydrogen is not limited to solar. It could take advantage of excess power from wind and hydro – indeed one of the early hydrogen export projects could take place in Tasmania.

But the vision doesn’t stop there. Some advocates are talking of vast solar arrays – of the scale of tens of gigawatts (yes, gigawatts) – that would use electrolysis to convert solar power into hydrogen, and have this shipped to Japan in the form of ammonia. This would rival the scale of the coal and LNG export industries.

Others talk of individual systems that would allow households to convert the excess power from their rooftop solar PV arrays into hydrogen, for use in their hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.

Others, including Yates, talk of hydrogen fuel cells to be used in buses, trucks and other heavy vehicles, even tractors, and of fleets of FCVs (fuel cell vehicles) to be used for rentals or government or business groups.

The hydrogen economy has been talked about for years, and it’s true to say that many have been, and still are, skeptical. They say that the distribution networks for hydrogen are expensive. They are. But their defenders say it is simply a matter of scale, and liken it to solar in the late 1990s or early 2000s.

But there are now a couple of powerful reasons why the hydrogen economy may rapidly emerge, and achieve those economies of scale. Two of those reasons are Germany and Japan, and the third is the Paris climate change conference.

Germany is phasing out nuclear and plans a high penetration renewable energy grid – 80 per cent by 2050. It is now looking at hydrogen to provide large-scale storage, both for generation and industrial processes.

Germany is rapidly scaling up R&D in technologies such as electrolysis, which uses electricity from solar or wind power, and then adds water to produce hydrogen (and oxygen). Its efforts are being compared to its big push for renewables, that led to the big falls in solar costs over the past decade.

Japan is also thinking of alternatives to nuclear, following the Fukushima disaster, and alternatives to oil and gas imports, and the emissions that come with it. It is also looking to hydrogen for the same purposes – as a transport fuel, for distributed and large scale power generation, and for industrial uses.

The Sydney hydrogen technologies conference has attracted 350 delegates from Australia and around the world, including a big contingent from Japan, including Toyota is pushing hydrogen cars, and unveiled its Mirai car at the conference.

Heavy industry is also present, including Toyota, Sumitomo, Kawasaki, Chiyoda, Iwatani, and others, along with government representatives and universities.

Japan is looking to hydrogen because it needs zero emissions fuel, and diversify away from fossil fuel imports, which account for 80 per cent of its total energy needs.

It has announced an energy plan that includes support for hydrogen fuel cells in homes, hydrogen fuel cell cars, and a refueling network, and then for hydrogen to be used in power plant generation and industrial processes.

Toyota's Mirai fuel cell vehicle promotion puts heavy emphasis on renewable energy.
Toyota’s Mirai fuel cell vehicle promotion puts heavy emphasis on renewable energy.

Toyoto is producing 700 Mirai FCVs this year and 3,000 by 2017, and Honda and Nissan will follow in coming years. So far, 27 refuelling stations have been built and some 130,000 homes have the Ene-farm fuel cell in their homes.

“We are in the first year of a hydrogen society in Japan,” said Shintaro Matsumuto, from the government agency NEDO.

Japan intends to start importing hydrogen from around 2030, but while Australian hydrogen advocates talk of using solar and other renewables, and acknowledge use of some fossil fuels in the initial period, they are surprised by the Japanese focus on cheap brown coal deposits in Victoria.

Matsumuto said initial projects would be based around fossil fuels for feed stock, particularly brown coal, although he insisted that Japan was looking to renewable energy – and for the hydrogen to be Co2 free – by 2040.

Toshimi Okada, from Chiyoda Corp, agreed the first step would be in fossil fuel hydrogen, before a gradual move to renewale energy. “Solar … with electrolysis …. has much potential in Australia,” he said.

However, Kawasaki Heavy Industries outlined a plan to build a pilot plant for brown coal gasification in the Latrobe Valley, with a full scale commercial plant by 2030, using offshore oil and gas fields for carbon capture and storage.

“Australia has enough brown coal to power Japan for 200 years,” Kawasaki’s Yasushi Yoshino told the conference. His company is counting on the success of the Carbon-Net CCS scheme, which is still just at the early feasibility stage, and there still being an appetite from brown coal mining in a decade’s time.

The commitment by Japan’s industrial heavyeights to put so much emphasis on fossil fuels prompted some dismay from the Australian audience. Attilio Pigneri, the chairman of the Congress, wondered if there was a “disconnect” between Japanese and Australian intentions.

Raoul Abrutat, a hydrogen enthusiast from Perth-based commercial solar firm Solarmatrix, said he was “shocked” that the Japanese hydrogen road map was based on fossil fuels.

“You are looking at the wrong state,” he said. “You should come to Western Australia and our solar resources,” he said. Andrew Want, from Renewable Hydrogen, who is planning a solar-to-hydrogen pilot plant in the Pilbara, echoed his comments. (We will have more on his plans on Thursday).

Others said the focus on brown coal highlighted how desperate the Japanese were for hydrogen fuels. Given the likely outcome of the Paris talks, the potential costs of CCS (if it works), then they would likely to turn quickly to renewable energy alternatives.

Meanwhile, Yates said the CEFC was interested in financing early developments in hydrogen fuel networks, and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency said it is also interested.

ARENA’s Danny De Schutter said hydrogen offered flexibility to balance out the output from rooftop solar and wind plants, allowing increased renewable generation, and offered new uses for renewable energy, such as a clean – and potentially cheaper – alternative to natural gas. And it could be used in off-grid situations, offering an alternative to solar and battery storage.

He also said the export potential for hydrogen would mean more renewable energy capacity, and to lower costs.

He said ARENA was looking to support some hydrogen projects, but the ones submitted to date had not been compelling.

“We have been looking at battery storage, but we are now turning our attention to hydrogen,” he said. “We will support feasibility studi”es and policy development and help get projects off the ground. We have received some proposals, but they are not yet of the quality for investment.”

“Hydrogen is the holy grail to unlock Australia’s renewable energy potential. If we can facilitate that – it will be a key to a clean energy future,” said Amy Kean, the NSW government’s renewable energy advocate.


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  1. James Hilden-Minton 3 years ago

    Given the population density of Japan, it may need hydrogen as an import fuel more than any other country. So how much are they willing to pay?

  2. Tony Pfitzner 3 years ago

    It is not this simple.

    H2 causes a new set of problems when it leaks into the atmosphere. Hydrogen (H2) is similar to carbon monoxide in that it acts as an indirect greenhouse gas through its effect on hydroxyl (OH) radicals. By reducing the levels of OH in the atmosphere, hydrogen increases the lifetime of some direct greenhouse gases, such as methane.


    The last thing we may want is leaky hydrogen distribution infrastructure, as is likely to occur in the third world.

  3. Peter F 3 years ago

    Probably an even better way of exporting “frozen sunshine” is in metal smelting eg aluminium but we have to get a much greater share of renewable generation and then get China and others to close down excess FF smelting capacity

    • Jonathan Prendergast 3 years ago

      I always feel a little sad when Aluminium smelters close down here in Australia. A while from being feasible here, but a great opportunity to export renewable energy.

  4. Chris Fraser 3 years ago

    We probably wouldn’t mind competition for purposes of home solar storage. What are the technical differences ? Most would like to see more comparisons between hydrogen and electro-chemical storage systems.

    • Jonathan Prendergast 3 years ago

      I don’t think you’d have hydrogen production at home, so it is more likely that you would use your 60kW of hydrogen stored in your car to help your home are longer periods of shade, and electric battery storage for more daily cycles.

      • Mike Dill 3 years ago

        I foresee solar (100% of normal winter demand) with about 1 day of battery storage (enough for 95% of the year), possible discharge of mobile storage (vehicle to grid), and perhaps some liquid/gas for the rare but foreseeable dark days. That combination will put me off the grid.
        Hydrogen has too many problems that would need to be resolved before it can be useful at less than utility scale.

    • Mike Dill 3 years ago

      The problem with hydrogen is that it leaks (very small molecule), corrodes most containers, and that the flame is colorless and does not give you any indication if there is a fire. Electro-chemical (battery) storage is well proven, and with flow batteries there is significant capacity without the hazards.

      • Chris Fraser 3 years ago

        Thus the reason for ammonia absorption i guess. I’ll google pictures of car fuel cells later to check their relative size, and i guess H2 must be ok with rigours of car use. There must be another issue, like not safe for home use – or inefficient ? The idea of 60 kWh in one cell (@Jonathan) steals all the attention.

        • Mike Dill 3 years ago

          H2 + O2 = H2O and energy. A 60 KWh equivilent fuel tank is a lot easier to do with hydrocarbons and a standard generator, but then there are the pesky CO2 molecules. Ammonia (NH3) has been tested and used as a vehicle fuel by the US Army, but has a lower energy density than petrol.

          So far, I have not seen a pressure reliability test for a H2 fuel system that bounces around in a car. The efficiency is currently rather low, as it takes energy to make the H2, compress it, store it, and transfer it. The actual use is rather efficient and clean. The H2 cheerleaders just want you to forget the other parts.

  5. Reality Bites 3 years ago

    Sorry but Leading economist Professor Ross Garnaut has had some wacky ideas for a long time. Sure Australia has a lot of resources and so to have lots of other countries including China, India, Russia, with a lot more capital and better position to harvest the opportunities. These countries are even now looking at a super grid. I foresee that as Australia completes its first 10GW solar array at a cost of USD100billion, just as scientists in Japan finalise the commercialisation of thermonuclear fusion! Then you would have a stranded asset!

    • Maurice Oldis 3 years ago

      dunno about your claim against Garnaut -but you certainly take the cake with your own wacky idea/logic

    • Cooma Doug 3 years ago

      The super grid idea is no longer mentioned and will go nowhere for good reasons.
      The cost of solar you have here is also over by a factor of 20.

      The other issue that is overlooked are the facts that make solar cheaper then anything else. The major fact being the elimination of the grid. If you take the super grid idea to an energy future think tank, you wont raise an eyebrow today.

    • Barri Mundee 3 years ago

      So when is that fusion reactor starting up commercially RB?

      We are regularly informed it is about 30 years away (always 30 years).

      More of the usual BS from you.

      • Reality Bites 3 years ago

        Any day now….., just the same pie in the sky probability that Australia can build a 10GW array and export hydrogen. Somebody has to give you dreamers a reality check!

        • Barri Mundee 3 years ago

          Oh I think a 10GW array has wayyyy more credibility than the fusion delusion.

    • Damien van Hoogen van 3 years ago

      The fuel and maintenance costs are zero and low respectively. The equity of such an installation is primarily influenced by the MWh of electricity it will generate over it’s useful lifespan – which it will do with almost no financial inputs. Even if the announced cheap fusion power today it would still take many years to get it tested, manufactured and installed at all the necessary locations. RE installations might suffer a small write down – but are unlikely to ever be stranded

  6. Adam Parris 3 years ago

    I might be wrong but isn’t it an inefficient use of solar to make hydrogen? Converting an energy source into an energy storage device and then converting it back to an energy source, sounds inefficient?

    • Cooma Doug 3 years ago

      Nature converts sunlight into stored energy in the form of fossil fuels. We dig it up and convert to heat, then to mechanical energy finally yo electricity. Then back to other forms of energy at an efficiency overall below 20%.
      The hydrogen process is much much better in terms of efficiencies above 50% and has a clean up cost close to nothing when compared to fossils.

      • Adam Parris 3 years ago

        Thanks Doug, appreciate the response and agree it’s a lot more efficient compared to fossil fuels.

        I would love to hear your advice about our competition

        • Cooma Doug 3 years ago

          Short of time just now but will do

  7. Coley 3 years ago

    Sounds like tha Japanese are going to throw the coal industry a lifeline?

  8. JohnRD 3 years ago

    Hydrogen is difficult to transport because it cannot be liquified. It makes more sense to convert the hydrogen to renewable, low impact transportable fuels such as liquid ammonia or jet A fuel. (For inland Australia liquid ammonia makes more sense because it doesn’t need CO2.) See: and

  9. onesecond 3 years ago

    In Japan the big companies are desperate to cling to their central position in the energy market and want to sell fossil fuels dressed as hydrogen to maintain that. Hydrogen is only a means to fight decentralised renewables and independently sunfueled electric vehicles with batteries, which are far superior in their efficiency and cost. For the Japanese people it would make much more sense to go renewable with wind and sun and battery storage and electric cars. Saydly their big companies and their bought government think otherwise.

  10. Askgerbil Now 3 years ago

    The development of hydrogen production facilities is a sensible move for Australian industry. It provides an alternate technology for using wind energy in off-peak periods that may be more profitable than storing it in batteries. It can displace natural gas used in manufacturing ammonia in fertiliser and other chemical products including transport fuels.
    It may also be desirable to produce hydrogen from both coal and renewable energy sources until renewable energy investments are able to meet demand for hydrogen. Solar thermal decomposition of coal is an effective method to store solar energy in a chemical fuel. Another advantage of initially using coal to produce hydrogen is to support the rapid uptake of hydrogen-fuelled vehicles, with a view to eliminating reliance on imports for transport energy needs. There are some further ideas on this topic at “Planning to phase-out fossil fuels in Australia”( )

  11. Robert Comerford 3 years ago

    Given the poor return on energy input to create, store and distribute hydrogen this sounds a bit odd coming from Mr Garnaut . There are no commercial renewable sources of H2, it is produced from fossil fuels. When it is made from water and converted to a liquid fuel we may be talking about something sensible to transport.

    • Askgerbil Now 3 years ago

      There are several commercial renewable sources of hydrogen. Search on:
      1/ “Kick-off for world’s largest electrolysis system in Mainz”
      2/ “Hydrogen plant starts storing wind energy in Germany”
      3/ “E.ON power-to-gas pilot unit in Falkenhagen”
      4/ “Hydrogenics industrial hydrogen generators”

      • Robert Comerford 3 years ago

        Thanks, I am well aware of these experiments. Nothing here negates my statement about commercially viable H2 from water.

  12. Miles Harding 3 years ago

    Haven’t we done the supposed economics of the hydrogen economy to death?

    Surprisingly, this wasn’t published on April 1.

    You’d think that sombody in the eminent person group that concocted this would have counted up the megajoules and sized the solar, wind and everything else needed to replicate the energy curreently coming out of the ground. I am sure they would have come up with an insane number and would have dropped the idea immediately.

    Here’s my take on that huge number:

    Source: BREE gas market report, 2014

    Australia exported 22MT LNG in 2013
    1MT LNG = 5.28e7 GJ
    1MWh = 3.6GJ
    1MT LNG = 14.7e6 MWh
    22MT LNG = 322e6 MWh per year

    1 year = 8760 hours
    Average hydrogen power = 37 GW over the year, now to allow for conversion efficeincy of about 60% (it’s a really good process) and the electricity needs are in the order of 50GW average over the year.

    This is something like twice the entire present national generating capacity of all forms and probably 500x the renewables today.

    It’s looking like a huge flying cream pie at this stage.

    Even if it were possible, the ‘gas’ would be so expensive that the Japanese customer couldn’t afford it.

  13. Steve Fuller 3 years ago

    Giles, I’m interested in your analysis of the Hazer process (conversion of methane to hydrogen and graphite using iron ore as a catalyst) and its potential impact on the hydrogen market and battery development.
    If it proves to be commercially viable it could be a very useful way of utilising existing gas stocks without the carbon dioxide problem. Maybe gasified coal could be utilised in this way as well.
    If we had global regulations that said that fossil fuels could still be used but only where the carbon product is graphite (or diamonds) or a similarly inert or benign substance then the existing mega corporations would come up with the requisite technologies in short order.
    In the meantime, coal deposits such as Carmichael could be fracked for their methane for conversion to hydrogen and graphite.

  14. john 3 years ago

    Of course the car manufacturers want to use Hydrogen because they can still derive value out of the service requirement of the internal combustion motor.
    An electric motor with its high efficiency and very low service requirement does not meet the business plan.

  15. electroteque 3 years ago

    I don’t believe electrolysis is possible. Hydrogen is the gas industry by stealth. Hydrogen can be generated from biogas however.

  16. Kay Schieren 3 years ago

    I’ve been off grid powered for almost thirty years – solar, firewood. I only use about 20l of fossil fuels a month, and that includes some petrol powered gear like chain saws, tractor and mowers, etc. – although, I am developing electric alternatives to run everything off solar soon. I must be the one and only age pensioner who uses a solar / human powered recumbent trike as my long distance transport, apart from our twice weekly bus service. Town is 100km away, and I do a round trip twice a month, pedaling with help from a tiny 200w dc motor. The trikes’ (I have two) 60 or 80 a/h 36 or 24v li-ion batteries are charged by a solar panel direct via a buck boost converter or an inverter from the household batteries. I can actuall tow a 100w 12v solar trailer and on a sunny summer’s day I have a range of over 200km. No hydrogen, no fuel of any sort to run it, no fuel running costs. And I stay very fit as well. I am working on hydrogen also, to use as a cooking fuel initially. This winter I will be back into further development using a very focused low amperage 400.000v pulse via a frequency generator which will be powered by one 3.2v lithium ion battery cell charge via solar panel and tiny voltage reducer/ regulator. My idea is to produce hydrogen on demand as it is used, with only very short-term low pressure storage needed. If anyone out there is interested in playing with this idea and sharing data, time and skills, I would be thrilled to bits. I believe that the search for commercial advantage has killed off so much good research and results have been lost to all as a result. The love of money will whipe us all out!

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