The world’s biggest port for coal exports could be home to one of Australia’s next hydrogen hubs as the nation transitions to cleaner energy.
The federal government has earmarked the Port of Newcastle for $3 million feasibility study to determine where a new 40 MW hydrogen hub could be located at the port, on the New South Wales coast.
The study, half of which is funded by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, will consider customer-led studies into mobility, bunkering, energy production, and industrial applications such as renewable ammonia at scale for domestic fertiliser.
ARENA chief Darren Miller said if the study proved the project to be feasible, it could enable Newcastle to become a major player in producing clean hydrogen.
“We’re excited to be a part of this feasibility study, which presents an opportunity to accelerate the diversification of Port of Newcastle, which is crucial as Australia starts its journey to net zero by 2050,” Miller said.
Mike McKensey, division director at Macquarie Group, which is also investing in the project, told reporters on Monday the port was the world’s biggest when it came to coal exports.
“We know that diversification is not a nice to have, it’s a must-do,” McKensey said.
The port is also Australia’s biggest on the east coast and the study will consider the site’s potential to scale up hydrogen production for export.
Hydrogen was seen as potentially advantageous in Newcastle because of the existing industries, infrastructure, access to a deep-water port and skilled workforce, alongside existing export routes to Japan and Korea.
The study follows a 2019 National Hydrogen Strategy, which focuses on turning hydrogen into Australia’s next energy export, and flagged Newcastle as well as Port Kembla as potential locations for this to occur from in NSW.
The government also has a target for industry to produce hydrogen for less than $2 per kilogram.
Prime minister Scott Morrison said the Hunter region had been behind Australia’s energy security and would play an important part in the nation’s transition to net-zero emissions.
“Right here in the port of Newcastle, the world will be able to plug into Australia’s hydrogen industry well into the future,” Morrison said. “And when you plug that in, you’re plugging the Hunter into jobs well into the future.”
The project represents ARENA’s second feasibility study for a large-scale hydrogen production project after it previously announced a feasibility study for a site in Gladstone, Queensland.