Japan And Australia Launch An Experimental Coal To Hydrogen Export Industry
Japan and Australia have taken their first steps to create new export industry which will convert the world’s most polluting fuel, coal, into its cleanest, hydrogen, and ship it in liquefied form from Australia to Japan.
The $350 million experiment is based on a vast reserve of low-grade coal in Victoria, which was for decades the southern state’s major source of electricity, until most of the power plants were closed because of the pollution they generated.
The coal-to-hydrogen process has its critics because it requires mining coal and the disposal of carbon dioxide produced as a by-product.
But if the trial works, it could be the start of a major new industry which will displace some of the coal Australia currently exports with hydrogen, a fuel gaining support as a source of power for vehicles and industry.
A consortium of Japanese companies, led by Kawasaki Heavy Industries and including Marubeni, Iwatani and J-Power, has been instrumental, with the aid of the Japanese government in the creation of the Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain.
Old Coal To New Fuel
The Australian government and the Victorian state government have also signed up for a process which will start with the production of hydrogen at an old power station in the coal-rich Latrobe Valley before the gas is pressurized to reduce its volume for trucking to a port-side facility, where it will be chilled to minus-253 degrees celsius and then shipped to Japan.
First exports of Australian hydrogen to Japan are expected in the second half of next year, arriving just before the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Long-known as a clean fuel, hydrogen’s only by-product when burned is water, but the energy generated by hydrogen is much less than that from other fuels making it less attractive financially than petroleum or natural gas, which can also be used to produce hydrogen.
A growing number of hydrogen production projects are being developed around the world as the search for cleaner fuel accelerates. There are also a number of experimental hydrogen-refilling stations being installed though demand is modest.
The Australian coal-to hydrogen plant starts with the production of synthetic gas generated by burning coal under high pressure, converting the carbon monoxide generated into carbon dioxide with steam and separating out the hydrogen.
For each 160 tons of coal consumed, three tons of hydrogen are produced along with 100 tons of carbon dioxide.
Australia’s Resources Minister, Matt Canavan, said the project could be an important step in creating a new industry which could be worth $2 billion a year if the trial is successful.
Internationally, the hydrogen industry is predicted to become a $2 trillion industry by 2020, according to an industry lobby group, the Hydrogen Council.
Car makers are particularly keen to see the development of hydrogen as a fuel with a number already experimenting with hydrogen fuel cells that combine with oxygen to produce a fuel that powers an electric car’s motor.
What’s different about the Australian coal-to-hydrogen project is that it has the potential solve one of Australia’s trickiest problems, how to wean itself off the most polluting of the fossil fuels, while also creating a new export industry that meets a growing demand in heavily populated Japan, where stringent pollution control laws are in force.
The chairman of Kawasaki, Shigeru Murayama, said in a statement to coincide with the start of work on the Australian joint venture that the hydrogen economy was materializing in Japan and it was “wonderful to be breaking ground here in Australia.”