Hydrogen offers new future to Latrobe Valley coal


Hydrogen is being touted as the next generation fuel for cars, power stations and homes. A new pilot project in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley will use brown coal to produce hydrogen for export to Japan and could kick off a new commercial industry.

In the first instance, the hydrogen made from Latrobe Valley coal will power vehicles during the Tokyo Olympics, which have been postponed until next year. Longer term, it is hoped the pilot plant will kick off a local commercial hydrogen industry and generate coal mining jobs to service it.

In the Latrobe Valley there’s a dedicated hydrogen pilot plant coming online right between two existing power stations, Loy Yang A & B.

They’re starving burning coal of enough oxygen that it forms carbon monoxide (CO) not carbon dioxide (CO2) – then they add steam (H2O) so the CO steals the oxygen and they end up with Hydrogen (H2).

Victorian District President, Geoff Dyke

“We’ll be burning coal and producing pure hydrogen with almost no carbon emissions,” says Victorian District President Geoff Dyke.

“We still produce CO2 in the process but because we’re located near bass strait oil and gas fields there’s a very good geological formation to pump CO2 into, so it’s locked up.”

The project is funded to the tune of half a billion dollars.

Stumping up the cash is the Victorian and Australian Governments and Japan’s Kawasaki industries as the Japanese are keen to showcase Australian hydrogen as the fuel powering their 2021 Olympics car fleet. But really the 2021 Tokyo Olympics is just marketing.

Ultimately the hydrogen plant in the Latrobe Valley is really about developing a new hydrogen industry in the land down under so we can eventually supply all the vehicles in Japan. And countries all over the world for that matter.

Experts say Australia’s abundant natural resources perfectly place us to be the world’s reservoir of pure, cheap hydrogen.

And if a commercial coal-to-hydrogen industry kicks off in the LaTrobe Valley because of the pilot plant, local power station workers and coal miners would win big.

Hear more about the hydrogen project in our latest podcast

“The coal volume required may increase which will increase jobs in mining,” says Geoff Dyke.

“In energy production the skills are directly transferable to the production of hydrogen – if we’ve got a high-volume plant there will probably be a growth in energy jobs as well.”

The idea of the pilot project is to try and test the entire supply chain – manufacture the hydrogen, store it, truck it to Port Hastings, chill it to -253 degrees, put in on boats, and ship it to Japan.

The Japanese have already built one high-pressure vessel to carry our hydrogen.

The Suiso Frontier is a 116-meter (381-ft) monster fitted with a vacuum-insulated, double-shelled liquid hydrogen storage tank capable of holding 1,250 cubic meters (330,215 gal) of liquid hydrogen.

The ship will be unloaded at a new specially constructed terminal in Kobe, Japan.

“If we manufactured hydrogen at an export scale it probably wouldn’t just be the Latrobe Valley, to get the volumes required, other regions could also produce hydrogen for export, and certainly we could use hydrogen hear for steel making,” says Geoff Dyke.

“There’s certainly potential for a lot of jobs across Australia if we’re going to supply the world’s transport systems with hydrogen.”


Back to issue: October 2020