Brown Hydrogen, the Valley and Westernport

Part of a large crowd protesting against plans to export liquid hydrogen from the Port of Hastings (July 2018)

A recent media release from Westernport and Peninsula Protection Council (WPPC) and the Save Westernport group was on the threat to the marine environment from the increase in shipping due to the Kawasaki brown coal to hydrogen project in the Latrobe Valley (see MR here). The good news is that shallow vessels will be exporting the hydrogen as “the trial (pilot) project involves ships with shallow draughts entering Westernport to pick up” the hydrogen. Thus, the immediate threat to the marine environment of Westernport Bay is limited.

The bad news is that the whole process is energy intensive and that the hydrogen “has [to be] trucked to Hastings and converted to liquid, by freezing to -250 degrees centigrade. The hydrogen must be kept at this temperature as it’s shipped to Japan” – energy that is still mainly supplied by our dirty, greenhouse gas generating, brown coal power. The hydrogen process will only be carbon neutral or ‘green’ when all the steps of production and distribution are supplied by renewables. I have blogged on this on a number of occasions (see here and here).

The media release noted this “project has involved $50 million dollars each by State and Federal Government and $400 million from Japan. This does not include government spending on carbon capture and storage which is going ahead in parallel. It is not part of the trial but is proposed to be part of a commercial stage if it goes ahead. Environment groups including Ninety Mile against Carbon Storage are vehemently opposed to this associated Carbon Capture and Storage. So-called ‘blue hydrogen’* projects, that rely on unproven CCS technology, would entrench the unnecessary use of fossil fuels in energy production.”

Julia Stockigt, Secretary of Save Westernport noted the “$500 million project to convert brown coal to hydrogen is by no means a green energy project. $100 million towards the trial is funded by Australian taxpayers – there’s no future in brown hydrogen, and it is putting Westernport Bay at risk”, and “It’s money that would be far better invested in truly valuable “green energy” projects that protect our future, and that global energy markets increasingly demand.”

I have long been of the opinion that market forces would mean that projects such as this would not proceed. However, the direct funding of the project by both State and Federal governments and indirect funding via the carbon capture and storage distorts the normal economic process. This is another fossil fuel subsidy making our ability to help control the climate emergency more difficult. The time has come to phase out all direct and indirect fossil fuel subsidies as soon as possible – starting with this increasingly absurd brown coal to hydrogen project.

*blue hydrogen usually refers to hydrogen made with fossil fuel gas.