The march towards the hydrogen economy continues apace with BP receiving $1.71m in funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to assess the feasibility of building a renewable hydrogen and ammonia production facility in Geraldton, WA.

Under the $4.42m feasibility study, the energy giant will investigate the production of renewable using electrolysis powered by renewable electricity sourced through a power purchase agreement.

Electrolysis is the process by which water is split into hydrogen and oxygen.

Renewable hydrogen produced using this process will then be used to produce renewable ammonia instead of the usual natural gas.

Despite its notoriously pungent smell, ammonia is not only easily liquefied (unlike hydrogen), it also has twice the energy density by volume than liquid hydrogen.

It can then be transported to export markets where it can be converted back into hydrogen and nitrogen.

Ammonia itself has also been proposed as an alternative to powering vehicles, as its combustion with a simple catalyst produces only water and nitrogen as waste products.

The study, which is supported by GHD Advisory, will generate findings to better understand the technical and financial implications of a fully integrated renewable hydrogen supply chain.

It will also analyse the economic opportunity presented by renewable hydrogen and determine how it can be scaled-up to satisfy future demand.

BP aims to produce 20,000 tonnes of renewable ammonia from the facility per year for domestic use.

This could find a ready market in Western Australia, with the state’s Energy Minister, Bill Johnston, all but ruling out the development of any new fossil fuel-powered generation of any sort.

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BP will also pursue export opportunities by leveraging existing trade relationships.

The selection of Geraldton for the facility was prompted by easy access to solar and wind resources, existing port infrastructure and proximity to large, long-term Asian markets.

South Korea has already flagged its interest in importing Australian hydrogen, with the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering noting that it essentially continues Australia’s role as a reliable supplier of fuels.

“Australia is a key market for BP and other companies to progress their strategic developments for the future renewable hydrogen industry because of our abundant renewable energy resources and established trade partners,” ARENA chief executive officer Darren Miller said.

“This study presents an important opportunity to support heavy industry to reduce its emissions.

“Early investments in feasibility studies like this will help us to realise the opportunity that renewable hydrogen represents and will ultimately help us to achieve our goal of producing renewable hydrogen and ammonia at a competitive price.”

BP chief operating office – Asia Pacific Frédéric Baudry says the super-major believes that green hydrogen produced using renewable energy will play an increasingly important role in parts of the world with high renewable energy potential such as Western Australia.

ARENA has committed over $22m to R&D projects, and almost $28m to demonstration, feasibility and pilot projects.

It also announced in November 2019 that it would commit up to $70m in funding to a Hydrogen Deployment Competitive Funding Round in 2020.

Applications for the funding round opened on April 15 2020 and will close on May 26 2020.