Will Australia’s ‘hydrogen road’ to Japan cut emissions?

Will Australia’s ‘hydrogen road’ to Japan cut emissions?

A joint Canberra-Tokyo effort is designed to create a cost-effective supply chain for an elusive source of clean energy

For more than a century the sprawling lignite mines in Australia’s Latrobe Valley provided the fuel that powered the southern state of Victoria. At its peak five coal-fired power plants burnt the soft, brown sedimentary rock — one of the dirtiest sources of energy — casting vast plumes of toxic smoke into the atmosphere that accounted for more than half of the state’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

Now, with global warming focusing minds in a country where climate policy has brought down governments, the first phase of an energy transition is taking place following the closure of two coal plants and a lignite mine in the valley, which is about 120km east of Melbourne. A Japanese-Australian consortium is set to begin producing hydrogen from brown coal in a A$500m ($370m) pilot project seen by its architects as the first step in creating one of the world’s first zero emission energy supply chains.

Kawasaki Heavy Industries, J-Power and Shell Japan have joined Australia’s AGL Energy and several international partners to produce, liquefy and ship hydrogen to Japan. They intend to burn some of the 5bn tonnes of lignite in the valley, enough to power Victoria for more than 500 years, to produce hydrogen. Eventually, they intend to capture the carbon generated by the process and inject it into undersea basins in the nearby Bass Strait. For now, however, their goal is to prove the viability of the supply chain and the emissions will continue to be released into the atmosphere.