Australia enjoys some natural advantages over the UK when it comes to generating clean energy.
It’s a little easier to cover the vast tracts of the Outback with solar panels and wind farms than in the green, rolling areas of England.
This is one reason why our antipodian cousins are clamoring for pole position in the global race to generate industrial quantities of hydrogen.
Green power: Australia is considering plans to build the world’s largest renewable energy hub in the western outskirts, which will cost £54bn and cover an area of about 6,000 square miles.
Countries around the world are investing in hydrogen energy as they scramble to cut carbon emissions. But they are also keen not to miss out on what experts believe is set to become a billion-dollar industry.
Still highly dependent on coal and natural gas, Australia has been widely condemned for refusing to commit to becoming ‘carbon neutral’ by 2050.
But the country’s ambitions to produce clean-burning hydrogen – the most abundant molecule on Earth – are on a truly epic scale.
The world’s largest renewable energy center is planned to be built in the Western Australian outback, covering an area ten times the size of Greater London.
Costing up to £54 billion and covering some 6,000 square miles, it will generate up to 50 gigawatts of wind and solar power – doubling the production capacity of the entire country.
But this energy will only be used to power machines called electrolysers, which drive electric currents through water to split each H20 molecule into two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen. The bonus of this energy intensive process is, of course, no carbon emissions.
It is hoped that hydrogen could be sold in large quantities in Australia and abroad to power a new generation of green buses, cars and ships, and to help heat homes.
The project is not expected to be operational until 2030, even though it has been given the green light by the Western Australian government. But its breath-taking scope might make Boris Johnson – a man renowned for his love of bold infrastructure projects – a little jealous.
The government has its own more modest ambitions to harness the power of hydrogen in Britain’s northern industrial regions – from Teesside to the Humber.
It is set to publish its hydrogen strategy, outlining plans to kick-start a billion-pound private investment in hydrogen production. It is part of its so-called green industrial revolution, which also includes investments in offshore wind, nuclear power and zero-emissions vehicles.
Making a pitch to Red Wall voters across the north, the prime minister has predicted that Teesside, Merseyside and Mansfield could all benefit from a boom in green jobs as they become major hydrogen power hubs.
Barnaby Wharton, director of Future Electricity Systems at lobby group Renewable UK, said: ‘The exciting thing about hydrogen is that we can generate it from renewable electricity – so it’s really zero carbon.’
Industrial titan Ineos, run by Sir Jim Ratcliffe (pictured), is to invest £25m in a clean hydrogen fund called Hydrogen One Capital Growth, which intends to float the stock market this year.
Several projects are already underway in northern England and Scotland, and have been awarded government funding. Among them is Hynet, which aims to become the UK’s first net zero industrial area by investing in a hydrogen production facility near Chester.
The project, backed by a consortium of investors including British chemicals giant Johnson Mathew and India’s Essar Oil, plans to use natural gas to generate hydrogen, capture and store carbon dioxide.
In the Humber region, between the old industrial towns of Hull, Scunthorpe and Grimsby, another plan to generate hydrogen energy is underway.
A consortium of investors has banded together to develop a giant electrolyzer, using electricity from the nearby Hornsey Forest offshore wind farm to generate zero-carbon hydrogen.
The Prime Minister has also promised 4,000 British-built hydrogen or electric buses, funding the bus manufacturer RightBus, based in Ballymena, Northern Ireland.
Energy giants are also getting in on the act as they seek to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels.
BP is planning to build the UK’s largest hydrogen project in Teesside. This, it claims, will generate a fifth of the UK’s hydrogen target by 2030.
British Gas owner Centrica is in talks with the government about a £650m plan to convert a disused subsea gas storage site off the north-east coast to store hydrogen.
And Ineos, the industrial titan run by Sir Jim Ratcliffe, has agreed to invest £25 million in a clean hydrogen fund called Hydrogen One Capital Growth, which intends to float the stock market later this year.
Ultimately, Britain expects that its switch to cleaner forms of energy will be able to cut 180m tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions between 2023 and 2032 – the equivalent of taking all of today’s cars off the roads for nearly two years.
But the government expects its Green Industrial Revolution to support 250,000 jobs across Britain by the end of the decade.
During this time, ministers believe that hydrogen will help fuel our daily lives – in addition to being a vital component of the water we drink and the air we breathe.
As Boris Johnson himself puts it: ‘You cook your breakfast using hydrogen power before you get in your electric car, charging it overnight with a battery made in the Midlands. The air is clear all around you, and trucks and trains, ships and planes are running on hydrogen or synthetic fuel.’
It is certainly a compelling prospect.
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