The hydrogen industry in Australia is still very much in its infancy, and still dwarfed by the coal sector, but activity is picking up and Victoria will soon have its very own coal-to-hydrogen plant.

In one of coal’s traditional heartlands, Victoria’s Latrobe Valley, a plant that will produce hydrogen directly from the brown coal in the region is being assembled.

Energy technology firm CO2CRC and Melbourne construction firm GLP Group built and delivered the plant to AGL’s Loy Yang facility over the summer.

Yesterday the companies revealed delivery was complete and the plant’s assembly had begun.

Making hydrogen from coal involves gasifying rather than burning the coal. This process creates compounds which react with water to make hydrogen.

When complete, the plant will handle 2 tonnes of raw coal to produce up to 84 kilograms of 99.999 per cent hydrogen daily.

CO2CRC CEO David Byers said the project would be Australia’s first ever coal-to-hydrogen pilot plant.

“If the project proceeds to the commercial phase, it promises a ‘clean hydrogen’ use for the Latrobe Valley’s vast coal reserves,” he said, adding that it will create a new hydrogen export industry for Australia.

The finished product, which will be pressurised for shipping, will be exported to Japan.


Japan wants our hydrogen

Japan lacks its own natural resources and has been reliant on nuclear power. But since the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011, the nation has been investigating less risky sources of energy.

Australian consulting firm ACIL Allen estimated last year that Japan will need 1.76 million tonnes of hydrogen per year by 2030.

It argued Australia could provide 368,000 tonnes of it and it would generate $4bn in direct and indirect economic benefits by 2040 from supplying to Japan and other countries including Korea and China. However, the demand flowing from Korea and China is much less than that coming from Japan.

But despite government investment and research, the industry remains a fledgling. While projects such as this are being built, the CSIRO has warned more research is needed to resolve challenges such as efficiency and economies of scale.

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