The Coalition’s Technology Investment Roadmap, set to be launched by the Morrison government this week, is likely to support the development of fossil fuel hydrogen, providing yet another lifeline for the coal and gas industries, rather than just a zero emissions ‘green hydrogen’ sector that uses wind and solar.
As reported in Nine newspapers on Monday, the investment roadmap is likely to push the pairing of hydrogen with carbon capture and storage technologies to mitigate any contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. This focus on “brown” or “blue hydrogen, will allow the Morrison government to further encourage the development of Australia’s gas reserves.
It also further advocates for the development of carbon capture and storage projects in Australia, despite ongoing questions about the technology’s viability. The one working project in Australia has been beset with operating issues and delays and attracted the ire of the Western Australia government for failures to meet carbon capture targets.
Green groups have criticised plans to develop ‘blue hydrogen’ projects (those involving gas), arguing that they are just another way of propping up a fossil fuel industry at a time when the use of coal and gas should be phased out.
Federal energy and emissions reduction minister Angus Taylor is set to launch the technology investment roadmap in an address to the National Press Club on Tuesday.
The contents of the roadmap have already been widely telegraphed by the Morrison government, and is set to call for an expansion of Australia’s gas sector, and investments in carbon capture and storage projects, alongside investment in zero emissions technologies.
The Roadmap is being developed by the Morrison government as an alternative to setting longer term emissions reduction targets. While many other nations are announcing more ambitious post-2030 emissions targets through international climate talks, the Morrison government will instead communicate the ‘technology investment roadmap’, despite such a target having no status under the Paris Agreement.
The position on ‘blue’ hydrogen has long been promoted by chief scientist Dr Alan Finkel, who led the development of the National Hydrogen Strategy as well as contributing to the development of the Technology Roadmap, who argues that as long as emissions are captured, it does not matter whether fossil fuels or water are used as the source of hydrogen.
The basic strategy, Finkel has argued, is to use ‘blue hydrogen’ to the extent that it is currently cheaper to produce than green hydrogen to establish the early supply chains and end use technologies in a hydrogen economy, before transitioning production to green hydrogen as the costs of electrolysers, and wind and solar electricity, continue to fall.
“We can use coal and natural gas to split the water, and capture and permanently bury the carbon dioxide emitted along the way,” Finkel told the National Press Club in February.
“I know some may be sceptical, because carbon capture and permanent storage has not been commercially viable in the electricity generation industry.”
The embrace of gas for hydrogen production also reflects the results of a substantial lobbying effort undertaken by the gas industry to use the Covid-19 pandemic as an opportunity to lobby for government support, including through the government’s chosen National Covid Coordination Commission which has strong representation from the gas industry amongst its ranks.
The Morrison government has sought to embrace the gas sector through a trickle of policy announcements leading up to the release of the technology roadmap, most of which have been seen as unnecessary market interventions simply aimed at propping the gas sector, and has already walked back the scale of its plans to build a gas fired power station in the Hunter region.