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The Morrison Government has reportedly thrown another $300 million at the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) to invest in new hydrogen projects, including those using hydrogen from fossil fuels.

The inclusion of hydrogen projects that convert fossil fuels is a significant, and symbolic, shift in intent from the Federal Government. It attempts to re-purpose the hype around hydrogen as the clean, global energy vector to makeover the energy contained in australia’s abundant coal and gas resources. If it can be converted into hydrogen, then it’s as good as clean.

Except for one small problem. It doesn’t make sense. Gas and coal don’t need a new high cost, energy intense process to deliver their energy to markets or to store them until needed. Australia’s is already the world’s biggest exporter of coal and gas, and we don’t have to do a thing to these commodities to get them to customers. Just put them on ships and turn up.

Reforming natural gas to hydrogen is a mature and energy intense chemical process used extensively around the world by the oil and chemicals industries. The process produces greenhouse gases.

Then the hydrogen would need large amounts of energy to be compressed to -253 degrees Celsius, a few degrees above absolute zero, to be shipped to the same markets that already by liquified methane from Australia.

It’s hard to know why you would bother. The process consumes far more energy than compressing methane, releases greenhouse gases here in stead of overseas and all to archive the same result.

The real value of developing a hydrogen supply chain is to convert surplus energy from renewable generation into a form (hydrogen) where it can be stored or exported as a zero emissions substitute for LNG.

The technical process (electrolysis) is well proven, but it’s still capital intensive and expensive, particularly when the electrolysis plant is only used intermittently. Solving this, along with options to convert the hydrogen into other forms like ammonia to make it easier to move are where most of the global research efforts are going.

Hydrogen from fossil fuels isn’t clean or new and doesn’t really help. Perhaps this re-direction days more about the ideological struggles driving the Morrison Government than the technological struggles facing researchers.