A number of large hydrogen energy projects involving Japanese companies are underway in Australia. Exports of fossil fuels, such as coal, have supported the Australian economy in the past, but the entire country is now aiming to become a “major hydrogen power” in response to the global trend to decarbonize. This means business opportunities for Japanese companies with technical expertise.
In the southeastern state of Victoria, a project is underway to produce hydrogen from lignite, a low-quality coal with many impurities. Many Japanese companies, such as Electric Power Development (J-Power), Iwatani, Marubeni, and Sumitomo Corporation, are involved in the project, which is also supported by the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) and the Australian government.
Lignite had been considered unsuitable for export because it has a high risk of spontaneous combustion. Steam-baking lignite to convert it into gaseous form, then adding water vapor produces high-purity hydrogen and carbon dioxide (CO2). There are plans for storing the CO2 produced from this process underground. A J-Power spokesperson emphasizes that the project can “provide a stable supply of hydrogen without releasing CO2 into the atmosphere.”
The extracted hydrogen will be transported in “Hydrogen Frontier,” the world’s first liquid hydrogen transport vessel constructed by Kawasaki Heavy Industries. The vessel can carry hydrogen which has been liquified at minus 253 degrees Celsius to reduce its volume to about one-eight hundredth. The plan is to transport the hydrogen from Australia to a storage facility in Kobe by the end of FY2021. The cost of hydrogen production, including transportation costs, will be much less than producing hydrogen in Japan because lignite is mass-produced and inexpensive.
Idemitsu Kosan, a major oil distributor, aims to create a “Hydrogen Valley,” a hub for hydrogen production and export, in New South Wales with local companies.
According to the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), a dozen or so Japanese companies are involved in Australian projects.
Sumi Hiromi of JETRO’s Sydney Office says that “hydrogen is relevant to many industries, and there are opportunities for even small and mid-sized companies to start a new business.” (Partially abridged)