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Hydrogen in Australia: investments and jobs

There is so much hydrogen news coming out of Australia that it is hard to keep up. At the state level, Tasmania has released its draft plan to increase renewables to 200% of its electricity use by 2040. This marks a serious start to establishing a renewable energy export economy, and includes funding and policy support to ramp up green hydrogen and ammonia production and begin exports by 2027. At the federal level, ARENA announced that its AU$ 70 million funding round for large-scale, “shovel-ready,” renewable hydrogen projects received applications representing over $3 billion of commercial investments. Australia’s renewable hydrogen industry has appetite and momentum, “and we’re seeing a lot of projects ready to be built.” As if to prove the point, two developers in two weeks have each announced hydrogen projects that could produce a million tons per year of ammonia. These are at opposite ends of the low-carbon spectrum: Leigh Creek Energy's in-situ gasification (ISG) coal-to-ammonia plant; and Austom Hydrogen's 3.6 GW green hydrogen export project.

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Monash team publishes Ammonia Economy Roadmap

Earlier this month, Doug MacFarlane and his team of researchers at Monash University published A Roadmap to the Ammonia Economy in the journal Joule. The paper charts an evolution of ammonia synthesis “through multiple generations of technology development and scale-up.” It provides a clear assessment of “the increasingly diverse range of applications of ammonia as a fuel that is emerging,” and concludes with perspectives on the “broader scale sustainability of an ammonia economy,” with emphasis on the Nitrogen Cycle. The Roadmap is brilliant in its simple distillation of complex and competing technology developments across decades. It assesses the sustainability and scalability of three generations of ammonia synthesis technologies. Put simply, Gen1 is blue ammonia, Gen2 is green ammonia, and Gen3 is electrochemical ammonia. It also outlines the amount of research and development required before each could be broadly adopted (“commercial readiness”). The paper thus provides vital clarity on the role that each generation of technology could play in the energy transition, and the timing at which it could make its impact.

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CSIRO at Work on SOEC Technology

Earlier this month the on-line trade journal gasworld published an interview with CSIRO's Ani Kulkarni that illuminated a research program focused on solid oxide electrolysis technology. The takeaway is that the CSIRO program is making progress that can, in Kulkarni’s words, “elevate this technology from the lab bench to become cost-effective at an industrial scale.”

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Project GERI: BP’s green ammonia feasibility study

This week, ARENA announced funding for the Geraldton Export-Scale Renewable Investment (GERI) Feasibility Study, led by BP Australia. While this project begins small, with a pilot-scale 20,000 ton per year green ammonia plant selling into domestic markets, it could lead to a 1,000,000 ton per year (1.5 GW capacity), export-oriented green ammonia plant.

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Industry consortium announces feasibility study for co-firing ammonia in thermal power plants

In March 2020, IHI Corporation, JERA Co., and Marubeni Corporation announced a feasibility study "to evaluate possible applications for the co-firing of ammonia in thermal power plants." The Japanese companies have contracted with NEDO to deliver detailed technical and economic analysis on the use of ammonia as a direct fuel for power generation. In addition, with support from Woodside Energy in Australia, they "will examine the construction and operation of world-scale ammonia facilities and the optimisation of supply chain costs" to support "large-scale export of hydrogen as ammonia."

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Green Financing Sighted in Australia’s Ammonia Industry

Last month the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) announced that it has “signed an AUD $400 million [USD $256 million] three-year bilateral sustainability-linked loan” with Australian conglomerate Wesfarmers. This represents at least the second occasion on which an ammonia producer has linked its cost of capital to progress in meeting sustainability goals. In July 2019, Yara announced that it had signed a USD $1.1 billion revolving credit facility with a group of 13 lenders whose margin “will be adjusted based on Yara’s progress to meet its carbon intensity target by 2025.”

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Green ammonia plants win financing in Australia and New Zealand

In recent weeks, governments in Australia and New Zealand have announced major financial awards to accelerate development of local green ammonia plants. In Australia, ARENA awarded AU $995,000 (US $0.6 million) to Yara and ENGIE for their solar ammonia pilot at Yara Pilbara. In New Zealand, the Provincial Growth Fund gave NZ $19.9 million (US $11.3 million) to Ballance-Agri Nutrients and Hiringa Energy for their wind-fed ammonia plant at Kapuni. Both projects will demonstrate that an existing fossil ammonia plant can be decarbonized in increments. Renewable hydrogen can be introduced in small amounts, displacing only a fraction of the plant's natural gas consumption but demonstrating and de-risking the technologies. Then, the renewable energy farms and electrolyzers can be scaled-up in stages, eventually replacing all the natural gas requirements and completing the conversion of a fossil asset to a renewable asset.