Rio Tinto and Sumitomo have confirmed a study to establish a hydrogen pilot plant at the latter’s Yarwun alumina refinery in Gladstone.

The announcement of the partnership between the industrial giants follows a MoU between the Japanese conglomerate and other regional players to develop a “Gladstone Hydrogen Ecosystem” around the mining port as well as Rio’s feasibility study into using hydrogen to replace natural gas in its refinery process at Yarwun.

If successful, the pilot hydrogen plant would be located at Yarwun and produce the clean burning gas for companies aroubd the Gladstone region, as well as at the refinery itself.

“Rio Tinto has a long relationship with Sumitomo and we are delighted to partner with them to explore the possibilities of hydrogen, not only for our own refinery, but for Sumitomo to supply industry more broadly in Gladstone,” Rio Tinto Australia chief executive Kellie Parker said.

“Reducing the carbon intensity of our alumina production will be key to meeting our 2030 and 2050 climate targets.

“There is clearly more work to be done, but partnerships and projects like this are an important part of helping us get there.”

Sumitomo Energy Innovation Initiative director Hajime Mori said the company is also looking at Gladstone as a future hydrogen export hub.

The announcement has the support of the Queensland Government, which launched a $2 billion renewable energy and hydrogen fund in its budget back in June.

Gladstone is now being bandied about as the “hydrogen capital of Australia” by Government Ministers.

Gladstone’s world-class deep water port, water security through Awoonga Dam, and industry attraction via the local State Development Area have set it up to become the “hydrogen capital of Australia, providing massive employment and supply chain opportunities both locally and in the Central Queensland region,” said regional development, manufacturing and water minister Glenn Butcher.


Japan continues to up investment in Aussie hydrogen

Japan was one of the first countries to develop a hydrogen strategy and looms as a major export destination for the commodity given its lack of natural resources.

Companies from the Asian nation, famed for supporting the initial development of our iron ore industry in the 1960s, have been keen to support Australian hydrogen export projects and studies.

Japan’s Eneos has been working separately with both Origin Energy and Neoen to develop green hydrogen supply chains between Australia and Japan, while Kawasaki and Iwatani have been studying green hydrogen projects in Australia with Andrew Forrest’s Fortescue Future Industries.

Mitsubishi last year made an investment in The Hydrogen Utility, a green hydrogen project in South Australia.