Coal-to-hydrogen project could create new operation

Possibility: J-POWER non-executive director Jeremy Stone believes other projects could spin off the coal-to-hydrogen project. Photograph supplied



THE Latrobe Valley coal-to-hydrogen project could be a catalyst for a clean energy hub in the region, according to the company chief, Jeremy Stone.

Mr Stone, the non-executive director, of the developer J-POWER, said hydrogen was the focus of the project, but other projects could spin off it.

“Someone who can take the hydrogen can make the nitrogen to make clean ammonia, add carbon dioxide (CO2) to that to make urea, which is a fertiliser, or take the hydrogen and add CO2 to make clean methanol or clean jet fuel,” he told the Gippsland Times after attending a Victorian Hydrogen Cluster Network Forum in Melbourne.

“Hydrogen and CO2 make those two, so there’s a range of other clean energy vectors based around hydrogen. The Gippsland opportunity is more than just hydrogen.”

Japan’s Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain (HESC), which uses Latrobe Valley brown coal to produce clean hydrogen, is a joint venture between J-POWER, a major Japanese energy company, and Sumitomo Corporation. The coal is gasified, with CO2 to be sequestered in empty oil and gas reserves in Bass Strait. J-Power refers to the project as ‘clean hydrogen extracted from Latrobe Valley coal with carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS)’.

Mr Stone said HESC would not necessarily store all theCO2, leaving some available for other industries.

“We could use what we can – it’s called capture utilisation and storage – and store what is not utilised,” he said.

“The other thing: long-term, we have a vision to use mixed biomass with the coal. The biomass provides lower carbon intensity and also provides carbon-neutral CO2. The CO2 from biomass is deemed carbon neutral – the tree has sucked in CO2 as it grows – so when it gets released in the gasification process it’s carbon neutral in the cycle. Therefore it can be added to make the jet fuel or methanol or urea fertiliser,” he said.

Mr Stone said the company envisaged using tree plantations and plantation wastes, not native forest.

“With taking CO2 out of the atmosphere and injecting it underground – the trees have taken in CO2 – this makes the CO2 carbon negative, ” he said.

“Our plan would be to use waste from the plantations as well as plantation timber which potentially could provide another opportunity in Gippsland for purpose-built plantations.”

Mr Stone agreed that this was a classic example of a cluster, where hydrogen would require and stimulate supporting industries.

“The hydrogen project will need many things that will provide jobs, income, and export income is a big part of the project,” he said.

Mr Stone said Victoria could make domestic use of the hydrogen, particularly in freight and transport. “The demand for power is initially less in Australia compared with Japan, which has a challenge as it imports 90 per cent of its energy. They have a particular challenge they need to resolve,” he said.

“In Australia, hydrogen could also back-up power supply for peaking plants rather than use gas or diesel, and long-term storage – use the hydrogen when you need it, when things don’t work.”

The HESC project in March gave the go ahead to proceed to its commercial stage through $2.5billion from Japan’s Green Fund. The move follows the successful testing of the coal-to-hydrogen technology last year at a pilot plant located next to Loy Yang A power station.

The long-term aim is to send liquefied hydrogen via a pipeline to the Port of Hastings where it will be shipped to Japan.

The joint venture will initially produce about 40,000 tonnes of clean hydrogen – 30,000 tonnes for the Japanese market and 10,000 tonnes for the Australian market. All going well, the commercial plant is expected to be in production by the late 2020s.

The CO2CRC (Co-operative Research Centre), operating since 2003 and based in East Melbourne, is adamant that CCUS is a proven technology. It says storing CO2 underground has been done since the ’70s and natural gas has been stored worldwide for 100 years.