MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia’s natural gas pipeline owners are working to prove their future A $ 75 billion ($ 59 billion) asset amid a global push toward clean energy, running tests to mix hydrogen with gas and produce green methane to replace the material fossil fuel.
Cashing in rare bipartisan support for hydrogen across Australian national and state governments to help reduce carbon emissions, owners of pipelines and networks have committed A $ 180 million for a variety of projects involving green hydrogen.
The Australian state has pledged to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, in line with many developed countries, but Canberra has not committed to a 2050 term.
“This is a business risk that we have to manage,” said Ben Wilson, chief executive of the Australian Gas Infrastructure Group (AGIG), which is owned by a unit of the Hong Kong-based CK Group.
“What was initially defensive has become an opportunity, especially given our renewable energy sources. We could become the world’s biggest exporter of green hydrogen, “he told Reuters.
Pipe owners seeking government funding for a hydrogen project aim to show how their infrastructure can be used to deliver hydrogen in mixtures with gas and store hydrogen as a form of renewable energy storage.
(Graph: Map of the Australian pipeline,)
“Ultimately, we also think that continuing to use this infrastructure allows the entire economy to remove carbon at a lower cost,” said Dennis Van Puyvelde, head of gas for Energy Networks Australia.
A study conducted for the industry body last year found that to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, building a hydrogen distribution network would cost half the cost of expanding the power grid to serve businesses and industries currently dependent on gas, and save Australia around A $ 13. billion.
The pipeline company is working on a shorter timeframe than 2050, as several states push to have 10% hydrogen in gas pipelines by 2030.
EYES WITH GREEN METHAN
A study conducted for the government found that hydrogen can be safely added to gas supplies up to 10% by volume without having to modify pipelines or equipment.
Van Puyvelde said the advantages of mixing hydrogen to gas allow for the gradual buildup of industrial hydrogen, requiring an electrolycer of up to 1 gigawatt, compared to the much larger and more expensive electrolyzers that would be required to export green hydrogen.
In the first testing of hydrogen into distribution networks in Australia, AGIG will begin injecting a volume-based 5% green hydrogen mixture in the gas next month, to 700 homes in Adelaide.
Jemena, a company owned by State Grid Corp of China and Singapore Power, is working on a similar government-backed project in Sydney, mixing up to 2% hydrogen into the country’s largest local gas network later this year.
More projects are in the works, with the pipeline company selected for A $ 70 million in hydrogen funding from the government, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency said.
Over the long term, the industry is closely watching Europe’s largest energy grid operator, E.ON, converts gas pipelines in Germany to produce pure hydrogen.
Apart from hydrogen, an ideal substitute for natural gas is green methane, if it can be produced commercially. Methane is chemically the same as natural gas, a fossil fuel.
Testing its potential, APA Group, Australia’s largest pipeline company, is building a pilot plant in the state of Queensland that will use solar energy to drive an electrolyzer to separate water, generate hydrogen and combine it with carbon dioxide extracted from the air to produce methane. .
The project has attracted the interest of US companies, and if successful, could help companies around the world, such as APA, which have billions of dollars invested in pipelines servicing liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants.
“If successful, it will be compatible with the existing LNG infrastructure. You don’t need to retrofit, “APA’s head of transformation, Hannah McCaughey, told Reuters. ($ 1 = 1,269 Australian dollars)
(This story has been rewritten to correct paragraph 3 to improve formatting)
Reporting by Sonali Paul; Edited by Ana Nicolaci da Costa