Hydrogen has been getting a fair bit of press recently with Resources Minister Madeleine King flagging the potential for the large-scale storage of hydrogen in salt caverns across Australia.

More companies such as Frontier Energy and Infinite Green Energy are also talking up their green hydrogen plans while others are spruiking “turquoise hydrogen”. This uses a process called methane pyrolysis to produce hydrogen from natural gas while producing carbon as a solid by-product rather than carbon dioxide.

Over in the west, the proposed HyEnergy project which could export some 200,000t of green hydrogen per annum has been found to be feasible.

However, the Western Australian state government’s decision to award a $10m grant to Woodside for the development of a renewable hydrogen production, storage and refuelling station in the Rockingham Industry Zone, south of Perth, does raise some concerns.

This facility to refuel hydrogen fuel cell-powered concrete agitator trucks and prime movers – operated by BGC and Centurion respectively – will use an onsite 2MW electrolyser powered by renewable energy sourced from the South West Interconnected System to produce about 235kg of hydrogen per day.

Green or not?

However, its credentials might not be entirely green, with the state government admitting that Woodside could use Renewable Energy Certificates where required.

That the project will even need to use RECs to offset emissions means it might need to source hydrogen from other, less-than green sources. Sources like, say, Woodside’s planned H2Perth project – conveniently located right next door – that has been the subject of much controversy.

Accusations of green washing – by folk such as former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull – have been thrown at Woodside and other proponents of the domestic and export-scale hydrogen and ammonia production facility, which is designed to produce up to 1,500t of hydrogen per day for export.

It’s easy to see why when you drill a little deeper.

While the project is ostensibly touted – by Woodside of course – as aiming to produce low cost, low carbon hydrogen, the CSIRO rather revealingly notes that both electrolysis and natural gas reforming will be used to produce hydrogen.

Natural gas reforming is the traditional method of producing hydrogen that rather unfortunately produces carbon dioxide as waste, which in turn requires Woodside to offset the emissions – possibly from acquiring RECs or Australian Carbon Credit Units, which are having their integrity reviewed.

What this all means is that this supposedly renewable hydrogen refuelling project might not be entirely renewable after all.

Are you surprised?

Hydrogen grant

There is also the question of why a company such as Woodside would be granted a $10m grant in the first place.

The oil and gas major reported second quarter revenue of $3.4 billion, a 44% increase over the first quarter due in part to its acquisition of BHP’s petroleum business, begging the question of why the company would even need the grant in the first place.

There are arguments to be made in favour of the grant, chief of them being that a major energy company such as Woodside would have the capacity to see the project through fruition and such grants would ensure that it will keep renewable projects at the forefront by making them that little be more competitive.

This will in turn help accelerate the transition to the hydrogen economy.

However, one can’t help but wonder how much $10m can achieve in the hands of smaller, more agile companies who are not only more dedicated to increasing renewable content, but also for whom a grant of that size could mean the difference between success or failure.