Much has been made about Australia’s potential to become a hydrogen superpower capable of supplying the forecast demand for the green gas in Asia.

It is certainly enough for the Australian Energy Market Operator to have developed a ‘Hydrogen Superpower’ scenario in its Integrated System Plan.

It has also driven the Federal and State governments to announce various programs to drive adoption of green hydrogen – whether this be its production or use – whilst companies such as Fortescue Future Industries have sought to advance their capabilities.

And there are some interesting developments coming out of organisations such as the CSIRO, which has just co-founded a company – Hadean Energy – to commercialise cutting-edge technology that can produce hydrogen with 30% less energy.

But there are some who believe that we are simply not moving fast enough to meet this lofty ambition.

Pro-renewables think-tank the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) has said that Australia needs to act fast to compete in the green steel race.

It noted that there is an opportunity to shift towards onshore processing of iron ore using green hydrogen to produce low-carbon steel for export.

The cost of shipping hydrogen, which remains a significant hurdle in developing the green gas into a viable export industry, means that it makes far more economical sense to use the gas near the place of production as much as possible.

However, achieving this would require technology developments that allow the use of Pilbara iron ores in low-carbon ironmaking using direct reduced iron will need to be accelerated to prevent the iron ore sector from losing market share to other countries and regions.

No one’s sitting still with hydrogen

But there’s one big reason why Australia really needs to pick up the pace and that’s because no one, whether they be competitors or customers, are sitting still.

China Petroleum & Chemical Corporation (Sinopec) has just completed construction of its Sinopec Xinjiang Kuqa green hydrogen pilot project, China’s first large-scale use of photovoltaic (solar) energy to produce green hydrogen.

This plant will be capable of producing 20,000t of hydrogen per annum at full capacity.

While this is dwarfed by some planned developments such as FFI’s Gibson Island H2 project, which aims to produce up to 70,000t of hydrogen per annum for conversion into ammonia, it is worth pointing out that not only is the Chinese project already up and running, it is a pilot project.

Quite simply, this means that sizeable as this project might be, it is in some ways a proof of concept that can be repeated if need be.

As it is Sinopec has already started construction of its next project in Ordos, Inner Mongolia, that will produce 30,000t of green hydrogen and has started planning its Ulanqab project.

What this clearly demonstrates is that if we are serious about making an impact in that sector, we really should have started yesterday.