Exciting time for energy revolution, Finkel says

By Melissa Coade

March 24, 2022

Alan FInkel
Chief scientist Dr Alan Finkel. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Dr Alan Finkel has told an audience at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) that the story of energy use will shift from one of accumulation to replacement.

Australia’s special adviser to the federal government on low emissions technology explained that the history of how humans have harnessed resources to meet their energy needs – from burning wood 7,000 years ago, to learning how to harness coal, to large-scale utilisation of gas in the 1990s — resulted in a mix of sources to generate energy. 

The mission for the world now was to ‘completely transform’ the energy mix, Finkel said. 

“This is widely recognised, but consumers are not prepared to give up the benefits of an abundant energy supply,” he said. 

“Instead, they expect government and industry to curb the growth in emissions while delivering the benefits of 21st century existence. In other words, to have our cake and eat it too.”

Speaking at the Low-Carbon Hydrogen International Standard Workshop on Monday, the former chief scientist (2006-2012) neuroscientist and engineer, said innovation and solutions were the keys to humankind’s energy challenge. 

“We are picking up the pace as we race through the early stages of our energy revolution, in Australia and around the world,” Finkel said. 

“I have been lucky enough to have a front-row seat as we sped past some important landmarks.”

Low-emissions energy and low-emissions industrial technologies to deliver zero-emissions electricity were the main tools to achieve this, he said, citing the combination of solutions that replaced emissions options with solar, wind, hydro and nuclear energy sources.

In cases where electrons were not appropriate, Finkel said energy options that relied on hydrogen and ammonia would deliver. This marked the start of a new energy era where countries shipped clean energy — like the recent export of the world’s first liquid hydrogen carrier ship, the Suiso Frontier from Australia to Japan in January — instead of exporting fossil fuels. 

“Governments have provided substantial financial support to nurture their early hydrogen industries. While this support is invaluable, ultimately the global hydrogen industry will only flourish if there are sustainable markets,” Finkel said. 

“Sustainable markets are built on scalable technology, cost-effectiveness and above all, trust. 

“To build trust, consumers must have transparency about what they are buying.”

To this end, Finkel called for new internationally accepted methods to measure the emissions intensity of hydrogen and derivative products. He said work was already underway by the international partnership for hydrogen and fuel cells in the economy (IPHE). 

“The only way a purchaser can know about the methane and carbon dioxide emissions associated with their hydrogen is for the emissions to be tracked and reported,” Finkel said. 

“Tracking and reporting these attributes in a consistent way across the globe is essential to building trust.”

Finkel pointed to an international debate about which of two main approaches to categorising emissions was preferable, warning that hydrogen definitions should consider three things: strict requirements on an emerging industry were prohibitive; poorly set definitions may inhibit or the sophistication of a future hydrogen trading market; and how poor definitions did not encourage ambitious action by failing to distinguish (between producers and suppliers who were extensively reducing emissions and those doing the bare minimum).

Confidence for international consumers was key, he added, so that they were assured the Australian market was delivering what was being paid for.

“We’ll need to ensure that fugitive emissions from the extraction and handling of fossil fuel feedstocks are very low,” Finkel said. 

“We’ll need to ensure that the rates of carbon capture and storage from methane’s chemical conversion to hydrogen are very high. And we’ll need to ensure that the process pressure and process heat are powered by zero-emissions electricity.”

In Australia, Finkel said the approach favoured for measuring hydrogen was known as the Guarantee of Origin scheme, and focused on emissions intensity. The other approach of categorising hydrogen according to ‘arbitrary qualifiers or colours’ was less powerful in setting standards, he explained. 

“A Guarantee of Origin scheme will track and verify attributes related to the emissions intensity, such as energy source, production technology, and production location.  But its essential role is to always declare the number, rather than a pass or fail,” Finkel said.

“With the emissions intensity declared numerically in kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent, per kilogram of hydrogen produced, we can trade, we can redirect shipments, we can meet the expectations of every single buyer.” 

Encouraging all sources of clean energy supply was the most efficient way to accelerate the world’s ‘modern energy revolution’, Dr Finkel concluded, with a sophisticated market supporting technology development and innovation. Different jurisdictions around the world would then pick and choose what standards worked best for them. Not just for hydrogen, but its derivative products like ammonia, and other clean energy commodities.

“Instead of accepting an industry definition of clean, my recommendation is for each country or customer to be provided the actual emissions intensity of the hydrogen they wish to buy so that they can make their own decision.

“APEC, as the pre-eminent economic forum of the Asia-Pacific region, can be the strong voice advocating, supporting and leveraging the work of the IPHE,” Finkel said. 


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4 months ago

The purpose of Alan (Electric Planet) Finkel is to make Ross Garnaut look like a real straight shooter. With carbon trading doing a fantastic job, reducing global emissions and global temperatures, of course it makes perfect sense that hydrogen trading can step in and do the rest of the job. With a Guaranteed Origin (?), and no Arbitrary Colours (?), what could possibly go wrong.

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