Hydrogen Hubs hype help

So you want to sound cool and be all hip about how you hub your hydrogen? But do you know your clusters from your valley? Is a hydrogen park full of hydrogen trees or is it somewhere to store a hydrogen car? Can you get wi-fi on a hydrogen network?

With so much hype around nature’s smallest molecule its easy to get confused in all the multi-million dollar government funded excitement. So here at Boardroom Energy we’ve put together a short guide on understanding the etymology of hydrogen buzz words so you too can be clustering with the best of them!

This week a consortium of companies announced plans to develop a Hydrogen Valley in the Hunter region of NSW, known more commonly for its world class coal reserves and looming by-elections. A Hunter Hydrogen Plan would create a Hunter Hydrogen Network which would reportedly create jobs, investment, export industries, all built around a green hydrogen pipeline that would supply manufacturing industries with zero emissions energy. It is reportedly the world’s first Hydrogen Valley, even if it’s not entirely clear from the announcement what a Hydrogen Valley is, except, presumably, like a Silicon Valley, only made of hydrogen.

The idea it seems is to locate electrolysers across the Hunter Valley and have them produce difficult to make and move hydrogen gas and then transport it around the Valley, rather than keeping it as electricity until needed. Presumably all of this unnecessary electrolysis takes place inside a valley. Et voila!

This is presumably somehow different from the notion of Hydrogen Hubs outlined in the National Hydrogen Strategy in 2019. Hydrogen Hubs are defined in the strategy as “clusters of large scale demand”, where hydrogen users can be co-located. The reason, presumably, is to allow electrolysers sourcing renewable electricity to be physically located as close as possible to demand for hydrogen to reduce the high cost of its storage and movement. These kinds of facilities might include cement kilns, steel mills and electricity peaking generators.

The Federal Government has now committed $275 million for the development of up to seven hydrogen hubs in regional Australia which may or may not be export focussed. Apparently $70 million was allocated for the first hydrogen export hub, which coincidentally is the amount ARENA set aside for funding some hydrogen projects. Are these the same thing? It’s all a bit confusing.

In any case, ARENA’s $70m  has increased to $103 million for three hydrogen projects, one of which is to use hydrogen to make ammonia for export from the Pilbara. That project got $42 million. This is an export project but not a hub. It’s just a large federal government contribution to build an electrolyser and solar generator attached to an ammonia facility. There are no clusters of other hydrogen customers in the proposal. Still, it’s good to see ARENA helping Australia building its hydrogen know-how by giving money to France’s Engie and Norway’s Yara.

A Hydrogen Industry Cluster (HIC) was also mentioned in the National Hydrogen Strategy. The HIC will “help build capabilities and drive industry collaboration across the hydrogen value chain. This will maximise economic benefits by ensuring Australian companies are well placed to supply new technology, products and services to Australia’s hydrogen industry and export markets.” So that’s what a hydrogen cluster is, as opposed to a cluster of companies inside a hydrogen hub. Still with us?

The excitement is contagious. The Mallee Regional innovation Centre has been cunningly re-named the Mallee Hydrogen Technology Cluster, presumably to position itself favourably for some of the Federal Government grant funding splashing around.

Meanwhile, gas network business AGIG has created a Hydrogen Park South Australia, where it has located a small electrolyser to produce hydrogen to be co-injected into the local gas network. It will create another Hydrogen Park in Victoria with the help of $32 million in Federal government funding, and another – Hydrogen Park Gladstone – in Queensland with state government money.

At least, to AGIG’s credit, they have actually built something that makes hydrogen at two of their Parks. The rest of the hydrogen hype remains on the to do list. Australia hardly makes any hydrogen yet, and certainly doesn’t export any either.

You could be forgiven for thinking that we are doing a lot more than we really are at the moment. Which is precisely the idea.