AU $53 Billion to Service a Inexperienced Hydrogen Market which Does Not Exist

AU $53 Billion to Service a Green Hydrogen Market which Does Not Exist

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Guest essay by Eric Worrall

The Australian federal government has accelerated approval for a $ 53 billion project and the destruction of 78 square kilometers of wilderness to produce green hydrogen for a non-existent export market. Everything to save the planet.

Green giants: the massive projects that could turn Australia into a clean energy superpower

Sat 14 Nov 2020 06.00 AEDT

The Asian renewable energy hub would have an energy content equivalent to 40% of all Australian electricity generation

by Adam Morton
Sat 14 Nov 2020 06.00 AEDT

The largest power plant in the world is planned for a huge piece of desert that is about half the size of the suburb of Sydney in the remote northwest of Australia.

Dubbed the Asian Renewable Energy Hub, its size is hard to imagine. When complete, 1,600 huge wind turbines and a 78 km² row of solar panels will be erected a few hundred kilometers east of Port Hedland in the Pilbara.

This solar-wind hybrid power plant would have an output of 26 gigawatts, more than the entire Australian coal fleet. The hub's supporters say the daytime sun and night winds from the Indian Ocean are perfectly calibrated to provide a near-constant source of zero-emission energy around the clock.

Most of it is used to power 14 GW electrolysers that convert desalinated seawater into “green hydrogen” – a form of energy that analysts expect to see increasing demand as a fossil fuel substitute in the years and decades to come.

Although the hub is still five years away from construction, it has moved closer to reality in recent weeks after the federal government gave it major project status – a designation designed to smooth the approval processes – and the West Australian government turned its first phase green illuminated.

However, most of the energy generated is exported. Since hydrogen condenses from a gas into a liquid only at very low temperatures (approx. -250 ° C), it is sent as green ammonia, which is safer to transport and is created by mixing hydrogen with nitrogen.

One of the questions hanging over the project will be its cost, but Star of the South thinks it makes good business sense – for the technology to become cheaper and for offshore wind generation patterns to complement, not compete with, renewable energies on land. It is seeking environmental approval from the Victorian government and is waiting for the Commonwealth to establish a legal framework for the development of clean offshore energy, but has a goal to start generating by 2025.

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My question: If the “technology is getting cheaper” and the market is not expected to exist until 2035, why jump in the arms? Why not wait a few years for the cost to drop even further?

The Asian Renewable Energy Hub plan has seen several radical changes since its inception. The original idea was a submarine cable to Asia, but that idea seems to have quietly died. Then it briefly turned into an export facility for green hydrogen, but now appears to have evolved into a production and export facility for green ammonia.

A 2017 CSIRO study found that the efficiency of green electricity to hydrogen to ammonia and back to electricity is between 25 and 39%, meaning that up to 75% of the already terribly expensive renewable electricity is lost just in the conversion without even considering shipping and distribution costs.

The production of ammonia from hydrogen from fossil fuels is a mature industrial process. So you would have to be pretty optimistic to expect significant performance gains from this part of the process.

Any dramatic cost savings must come from cost savings in the manufacture of the solar panels and wind turbines, but there is a limit to how far the price can go. The manufacture of wind turbines and solar modules is a very energy-intensive industrial process.

One last straw, somehow the project has to get large amounts of water to wash the solar panels. The accumulation of dust in the Australian desert must be seen to be believed. In the dry desert environment, static charges build up quickly, causing the dust to stick to the surfaces. You can't use unprocessed seawater to wash the panels as heated brine is corrosive, leaves residue, and is a very good electrical conductor – shorts, easy clogging, and corroded wiring in one simple package. You cannot clean the panels with compressed air as the dust particles are abrasive. Compressed air would sandblast the panels. While research is currently underway into how to remove the dust using electrostatic methods or how to gently brush the dust away without water, chemically pure water remains one of the least harmful cleaning agents.

In the desert, however, clean water is a very limited resource.

In addition to desalination of water for hydrogen and ammonia production, the project must desalinate large amounts of water to keep the 78 km² solar panels clean by washing them regularly.

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