People do not normally stop to think where their waste goes when it is flushed down, the usual expectation is that it goes somewhere else that is not in our homes.

And while some of us (overly curious or bored folk) know that wastewater is treated to ensure that it is safe before it is discharged or recycled, fewer realise that the methane released from the breakdown of solid matter is used to generate electricity for the treatment plant.

While this process is essentially renewable, it does create excess gas that is burned off.

However, the Western Australia government has now given the green light to a project that could see the excess methane and carbon dioxide (the other gas we sneakily failed to mention earlier) be used to produce low emission hydrogen and graphite.

The state’s Water Corporation and local company Hazer Group (ASX:HZR) have partnered together on a three-year project that will use the latter’s technology at the Woodman Point Wastewater Treatment Plant in Munster to produce around 100 tonnes of fuel-grade hydrogen and 380 tonnes of graphite each year using an iron catalyst.

Hydrogen can be used as a clean fuel for a range of industrial and commercial uses while the graphite can be used for the production of lithium-ion batteries, water purification and advanced materials.

“Excess gas produced during the wastewater treatment process is currently burned off but this innovative technology will instead use it to create low-emission hydrogen and graphite,” WA Water Minister Dave Kelly said.

“This will help decarbonise the Water Corporation’s operations to further support its sustainability objectives, while generating additional revenue and staff training opportunities.”

Regional development minister Alannah MacTiernan says the project aligns with the state government’s renewable hydrogen strategy that seeks to position Western Australia as a major producer and exporter of renewable hydrogen.

“This initiative represents an important first step towards kick-starting renewable hydrogen production capacity and driving the use of zero-emissions transport fuel for buses, heavy trucking, waste collection, and light vehicle,” she added.

Hazer will build its commercial demonstration plant at the Woodman Point site and expects delivery of biogas to begin in 2021.

Engineering, procurement, and commercial activities required to reach a final investment decision on the project is progressing, with the company expecting to make a decision by the middle of this year.

The company has already secured a binding agreement with the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) for grant funding of up to $9.41m to support the design, procurement, construction and operation of the demonstration plant.

Separately, Hazer secured a grant of up to $250,000 in April for a feasibility study on the creation of a renewable hydrogen transport hub in the City of Mandurah.

There has been increasing attention on hydrogen as the next fuel, with BP studying the feasibility of building a renewable hydrogen and ammonia production facility in Geraldton, WA.

The New South Wales government has targeted the blending of up to 10 per cent hydrogen into its gas networks by 2030, while Queensland has selected Gladstone as the site for a proposed multi-billion chemical complex for the production of green hydrogen and ammonia at an industrial-scale.

Work is ongoing towards completion of Australia’s first coal-to-hydrogen plant that will produce hydrogen directly from the brown coal mined in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley, while Tasmania has unveiled aggressive plans to leverage its abundant renewable energy resources to become a world leader in large-scale renewable hydrocarbon production.