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Greenwashing the Australia-Japan Hydrogen Chain

Tuesday June 28, 2022. 04:56 AM , from Akihabara News
Akihabara News (Tokyo) — While the voyage of the Suiso Frontier, bringing liquefied hydrogen from the Latrobe Valley in Victoria, Australia, to Kobe, Japan, has been hailed as a breakthrough for the Australia-Japan Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain (HESC) project–and thus a new chapter for the emergence of clean energy–the environmental soundness of the achievement is less impressive under closer examination.

Both countries’ governments have touted the US$350 million HESC project as a “game changer” and “an environmentally conscious solution to producing clean hydrogen.”

According to the Tokyo-based Renewable Energy Institute, if Japan is to reach zero emissions in 2050, its greenhouse gas emissions must decline by 95% by 2045.

One of the Japanese government’s strategies to realize this ambition has been to partner with Australia in the extraction, liquefication, and export of hydrogen.

Unfortunately, the Australian government is well-known for its dependence on its established coal and gas industries, and its hydrogen strategy reflects this reality.

There is not yet any indication that there will be a fundamental policy change under the new Labor administration.

During the HESC pilot phase, almost 100% of the Australian hydrogen supplied to Japan via the Suiso Frontier has been produced from brown coal and biomass fuel.

Brown coal is one of the most emissions-heavy gasification methods for hydrogen production. For every ton of hydrogen produced, 10-12 tons of carbon dioxide is emitted. This means that it is one of the most polluting forms of energy.

Brown coal is employed despite “clean hydrogen” being touted as a key focus of Australia’s National Hydrogen Strategy.

There is not a single state in Australia which does not engage in coal mining, and in 2019 alone, coal was responsible for over 164 million tons of Australia’s greenhouse emissions–almost 31% of the national total.

However, despite the detrimental effects coal has on the environment, Australia’s Office of the Chief Economist reported that over a hundred new or expansionary fossil fuel projects were launched last year alone.

According to Market Forces, an Australian campaign group dedicated to assisting people in avoiding environmentally destructive spending, “just four of the projects… would enable the release of 9.8 billion [tons] of CO2 [emissions], enough to cancel out any gains made under Australia’s emissions reduction target (2021-2030) 109 times over.”

Such facts leave Canberra open to accusations that its hydrogen strategy is little more than a cover for the continued promotion and use of fossil fuels, thus constituting a clear-cut instance of greenwashing.

An alternative, environmentally-friendly approach would be a massive expansion of so-called “green hydrogen.” Green hydrogen is created using renewable resources, such as solar and wind power, in a process known as electrolysis. It is a minimal-to-zero carbon emissions technique.

Both Japan and Australia cite concern for the environment as a primary motive for the HESC project.

Markets and Markets, a research firm, has predicted that hydrogen generation will account for US$200 billion globally within three years.

Furthermore, according to the International Energy Agency, hydrogen demand is “expected to expand 44% by 2030.”

By comparison, the global green hydrogen market is predicted to reach barely US$10 billion by 2028, according to the projections of Allied Market Research. This would account for around only 5% of the total market.

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