Australia is blessed with certain natural advantages over the UK when it comes to generating clean energy.
It’s a little easier to cover expanses of the outback with solar panels and wind farms than England’s green, rolling fields.
This is one of the reasons why our Antipodean cousins are competing for pole position in the global race to generate hydrogen in industrial quantities.
Green power: Australia considers plans to build the world’s largest renewable energy hub in the western outback, which will cost £54 billion and cover an area of nearly 6,000 square miles
Countries around the world are investing in hydrogen as they strive to reduce CO2 emissions. But they also don’t want to miss what experts say is destined to become a multi-trillion dollar industry.
Australia, which still relies heavily on coal and natural gas, 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.
Plans have been submitted to build the world’s largest renewable energy hub in the outback of Western Australia, covering an area ten times the size of Greater London.
Costing up to £54 billion and covering nearly 6,000 square miles, it would produce up to 50 gigawatts of wind and solar power – doubling the entire country’s generating capacity.
But this energy would only be used to power machines called electrolysers that run electrical currents through water to split each H2O molecule into two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. The bonus of this energy-intensive process is, of course, that no CO2 emissions are produced.
It is hoped that huge amounts of hydrogen could be sold in Australia and abroad to power a new generation of green buses, cars and ships – and to heat homes.
The project is not expected to be operational until 2030, even if it gets the green light from the Western Australian government. But its breathtaking scope might make Boris Johnson — a man known for his love of daring infrastructure projects — a little jealous.
The government has its own more modest ambitions to harness the power of hydrogen in Britain’s northern industrial heartland – from Teesside to the Humber.
It is about to publish its hydrogen strategy, which outlines plans to trigger billions of pounds of private investment in hydrogen production. This is part of the so-called Green Industrial Revolution, which also includes investments in offshore wind energy, nuclear energy and zero-emission vehicles.
The prime minister pitched to Red Wall voters in the north, predicting that Teesside, Merseyside and Mansfield could all benefit from an increase in green jobs as they become major hydrogen hubs.
Barnaby Wharton, director of future electricity systems at lobby group Renewable UK, said: ‘The exciting thing about hydrogen is that we can produce it from renewable electricity – so it’s really carbon-free.’
Industrial titan Ineos, run by Sir Jim Ratcliffe (pictured), is set to invest £25m in a clean hydrogen fund called Hydrogen One Capital Growth, which plans to hit the stock market this year
Several government-funded projects are already underway in Northern England and Scotland. Among them is Hynet, which aims to become the UK’s first net zero industrial zone by investing in a hydrogen production facility near Chester.
The project, backed by a consortium of investors including British chemical giant Johnson Matthey and India’s Essar Oil, plans to generate hydrogen from natural gas, capturing and storing the carbon dioxide.
In the Humber region, between the old industrial towns of Hull, Scunthorpe and Grimsby, another plan is underway to generate hydrogen.
A consortium of investors has teamed up to develop massive electrolysers, using power from the nearby Hornsea One offshore wind farm to generate carbon-free hydrogen.
The Prime Minister has also pledged to supply 4,000 British-built hydrogen or electric buses, providing funding to bus manufacturer Wrightbus, based in Ballymena, Northern Ireland.
Energy giants are also taking action to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels.
BP plans to build the UK’s largest hydrogen project in Teesside. This, it claims, would deliver one-fifth of the UK’s hydrogen target by 2030.
British Gas owner Centrica is in talks with the government over a £650m plan to convert a disused undersea gas storage facility off the northeast coast to store hydrogen.
And industrial titan Ineos, led by Sir Jim Ratcliffe, has agreed to invest £25m in a clean hydrogen fund called Hydrogen One Capital Growth, which plans to hit the stock market later this year.
Ultimately, Britain hopes that by switching to cleaner forms of energy between 2023 and 2032, it can reduce 180 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions – the equivalent of taking all cars off the road for about two years.
But the government hopes its Green Industrial Revolution will also support up to 250,000 jobs in the UK by the end of the decade.
During this time, ministers believe that hydrogen will fuel our daily lives, except that it is a crucial part of the water we drink and the air we breathe.
As Boris Johnson himself puts it: ‘You cook your breakfast on hydrogen before you get in your electric car, after charging it overnight with batteries made in the Midlands. The air around you is cleaner and the trucks and trains, ships and planes run on hydrogen or a synthetic fuel.’
It is certainly an attractive prospect.
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