Latrobe Valley Hydrogen Theatre

(Renew Economy)

The first shipment of brown hydrogen from the Latrobe Valley received much publicity in the media. A Renew Economy article headed that the gas was the wrong colour and called it ‘blue’ hydrogen whereas for a number of years I have been calling it ‘brown’ (see here and here). The problem of course is that it is still ‘fossil hydrogen’ and is in no way a solution to solving the planet warming.

Renew Economy noted “The 116-metre ship features a 1,250 cubic metre storage tank for transporting liquid hydrogen. The vessel will transport its first batch of hydrogen between the Port of Hastings in Victoria to Kobe in Japan. The ship’s arrival marks a major milestone for the Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain and Australia’s emerging status as a hydrogen exporter.

The economy of this project is simply absurd without massive government subsidies (from Japan too?) and the ability of the company to write off much of the expenditure. As many have noted, to have any ‘green’ credentials whatsoever, the commercialization of the project is reliant on the distant, unproven and expensive carbon capture and storage.

The shipping of the brown hydrogen from Westernport was part of, at best, a misguided action to keep industry and utilize the brown coal resource in the Valley. The ship has a carrying capacity of about 90 tons*. The pilot plant was scheduled to produce three tons of hydrogen at a total cost of over $100 million per ton and assuming the ship is carrying the full planned production it constitutes less than 3% of  a load. Making it a rather expensive public relations exercise.

Karri Giles of the Westernport and Peninsula Protection Council in a media release noted that this was a trial run and that 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 compressing 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.”

Guest blogger Chas Rose noted that the “trial is hardly a ‘world first’ as the majority of hydrogen (∼95%) is (and has been for decades) produced from fossil fuels by steam reforming or partial oxidation…” and the “whole scheme has already been highly politicised in the Latrobe region…and the promise of new jobs is welcomed. However ‘renewables’ are the way to go if we are to meet our obligations under the ‘Paris Accord on Climate’ to which Australia is a signatory. Hydrogen (plus oxygen) can be made simply by electrolysis of water.” The “politicians “still don’t get it!” he added.

Green hydrogen will be produced by surplus renewable energy at or near a port capable of handling large shipments such as Portland. The production cost of this energy will be nearly zero. The Valley pilot plant and the Hastings liquefaction plant are already stranded assets.

*71kg per cubic metre