Coal-fired hydrogen plan ‘takes prize for stupidity’ by Karri Giles

Part of the 400-strong crowd that protested last month against plans to export liquid hydrogen from the Port of Hastings

(first published in the Bass Coast Post 20.7)

THE Westernport Peninsula Protection Council’s award for the stupidest idea of 2018 goes to Daniel Andrew and Malcolm Turnbull for their plan to turn brown coal into hydrogen and export it out of Hastings (for an earlier blog on this see here ed.). Kawasaki, J Power and Iwatani propose to export hydrogen gas from Hastings made from Loy Yang’s brown coal. This involves partially burning brown coal at Loy Yang.

It takes 160 tonnes of brown coal to make one tonne of hydrogen, using water to scrub the carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulphides, and methane out of the emissions, and pumping it underground after finding a location and method of sequestrating first. It involves getting the hydrogen gas to Hastings then converting it to liquid in a new plant by freezing to below minus 250 degrees, building a new port to export it, including massive dredging of millions of cubic metres of bay bed, shipping the liquid hydrogen to Japan and converting it back to gas.

Four industrial processes and three journeys … The first criterion for the award for stupidity is that a fool doesn’t learn from their own mistakes. Exporting woodchips to Japan has to be the most regrettable thing our State Government has done, let alone allowing our timber industry to be woodchip driven. Ballast water from Japanese ships have brought the Northern Pacific Seastar, which has infested the woodchip ports of Derwent estuary and Phillip Bay, devastating the fish stocks. We don’t have the seastars here in Western Port and we don’t want them.

The next criterion of the stupidity award was pretending brown coal use is green. We, the citizens of Victoria, thought we were stepping away from using brown coal because of climate change. Make no mistake: burning brown coal for energy at Loy Yang would be far less damaging than this stupid plan. The third criterion for the stupidity award is not reading your own reports.

Infrastructure Victoria ruled out Western Port as an option for a container port because it would take 23 million cubic metres of dredging. As the area of Western Port is 680 square kilometres, this is equivalent to digging up the entire bay to a depth of 3.4 metres – above ceiling height. Of course it is deeper depths in a smaller area but it is far too much material to pass environmental laws. Seagrass could not grow to the new depths required, leading to ongoing erosion (in our fast tides), turbidity and death.

That amount of dredging would result in coastal inundation. Nine groups endorsed Bass Coast Shire Council’s principle: No capital dredging in Western Port Bay. Western Port cannot host a new port for commercial-scale ships, it is too shallow. The hydrogen gas ships for the long-term proposal are of deep draught.

The last criterion for the award is the amount of money being wasted. The Kawasaki project gets top marks with nearly $500 million, $50 million each from the state and federal governments for the trial alone. This doesn’t include finding ways to sequester the coal smoke water. Latrobe Valley deserves sustainable job creation, not another failed project. Every level of government recognises it as fragile and valuable internationally. People who scuba dive say the bay is healthier and more diverse than most places around the world now.

Western Port is worth billions every year in its healthy state, and is too precious to lose. The economy of this area depends on it being a recreational area with the associated health benefits. Here we are today, beach goers, sailors, scuba divers, residents, holiday house owners, ecotour operators, marine educators, school camp operators, restaurateurs, surfers, snorkelers, dog walker, fishers, paddlers and boaters. We love Western Port and will fight for it!