The Brown Coal to Hydrogen Saga Continues


A recent article in the Saturday Paper by Mike Seccombe entitled “Hydrogen strategy backs dirty coal” clearly outlined the efforts by our governments to keep brown coal alive. It is a strategy that they have been following for some time and I have commented on a number of occasions that they are backing the wrong horse (see here, here and here), Seccombe noted that “there is evidence to suggest the government’s intent in getting into the hydrogen economy is, as ever, to protect the fossil fuel industry by locking it in as the preferred source for Australia’s hydrogen production. Yet Australia is devoting far more money to pursuing the coal-to-hydrogen option. Of the $370 million funding announced by Taylor and Canavan, only $70 million is earmarked for work towards generating hydrogen from water.

Seccombe continued “Compare this with the amount being spent right now on a single project called the Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain (HESC). A consortium of Japanese and Australian interests is spending almost $500 million, including $50 million of federal government money and another $50 million from the Victorian government, on building a pilot coal-to-hydrogen plant, due to operate for one year over 2020 and 2021.”

My objections to this are many. Taxpayer funds are going to a project that will never proceed beyond the pilot plant because of the climate emergency. As well as the $100 million direct subsidy from the State and Federal governments there is the additional $150 million spent by the state government to identify locations off the Ninety Mile (see here) where the theoretically captured carbon from a plant operating in the Valley and could be stored. No Carbon Capture and Storage plant has worked properly capturing most of the CO2 and they have been extraordinarily expensive.

Quoting Environment Victoria’s Nick Aberle Seccombe noted “the pilot would produce at most three tonnes of hydrogen during its one year of operation. To achieve that it would use 160 tonnes of brown coal – the most polluting of all fossil fuels – and would emit 100 tonnes of carbon dioxide.” Roughly calculated at a cost of about $100 million per ton for taxpayers but the real figure allowing for company investment, tax right-offs, depreciation is certainly much, much higher.

Most of our elected representatives and senior public servants remain in the pockets of the fossil fuel interests and the status quo and believe ‘they can have their cake and eat it too’. They continue to fund the industries and institutions that cause global warming including ‘Mickey Mouse’ non-solutions like Coal to Hydrogen. It has been clear for some time they are yet to comprehend the urgency of the climate emergency. They are poorly advised or completely deluded.