Japan’s Sumitomo Corp. will partner with Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto to develop a 2 MW green hydrogen production facility at the miner’s Yarwun refinery in the Australian state of Queensland, while exploring the potential of hydrogen as a replacement for gas in the alumina refining process.
The pilot project, which is expected to produce up to 300 tons of green hydrogen per annum, will also supply the Gladstone Hydrogen Ecosystem. The collaboration includes Sumitomo, Gladstone Ports Corp., the Gladstone Regional Council, Australian Gas Networks, and CQUniversity Australia.
Sumitomo said it want to explore opportunities to develop a hydrogen industry in the region. It will initially pursue domestic offtake and mobility solutions before moving to enable large-scale exports.
The ecosystem will be complemented by the use of hydrogen to replace gas in the alumina refining process at Yarwun, a project which Sumitomo Australia national hydrogen commercialisation manager Alana Barlow said could provide a pathway for reducing emissions in otherwise hard-to-abate industries.
“The project will produce up to 300 tonnes of green hydrogen per annum, but it is how that hydrogen will be utilised which is critical,” Barlow said. “50% of the hydrogen will be used to seed hydrogen ecosystem projects in Gladstone such as mobility. The other 50% will be used by Rio Tinto to test hydrogen in the alumina refining process at Yarwun to demonstrate over a 24-month period the tolerance levels of hydrogen blends with natural gas where we will provide up to 100% hydrogen. If successful, this demonstration will be a critical technological victory for reducing carbon emissions and optimising refineries.”
Barlow said the pilot project, and others like it, are crucial to the development of the hydrogen industry is Australia, saying players need to “show, don’t tell” the community about the benefits.
“It is critical to demonstrate the use of opportunities it presents,” she said. “Small-scale pilot and demonstration labs are essential to this. We need to help people prepare for and take advantage of impending opportunities.”
Rio Tinto said the green hydrogen pilot plant, which was first announced last year, is aligned with its emissions reduction targets. It said it will help to decarbonize the aluminium business, which is a heavy user of electricity.
“Rio Tinto has a long relationship with Sumitomo and we are delighted to partner with them to explore the possibilities of hydrogen, not only for our own refinery, but for Sumitomo to supply industry more broadly in Gladstone,” Rio Tinto Australia Chief Executive Kellie Parker said in a statement. “Reducing the carbon intensity of our alumina production will be key to meeting our 2030 and 2050 climate targets. There is clearly more work to be done, but partnerships and projects like this are an important part of helping us get there.”
The Sumitomo pilot project is among a suite of green hydrogen projects planned for the Gladstone area, including a massive “super-hybrid” project unveiled this week by Queensland developer Sunshine Hydro and Energy Estate.
Valued at up to AUD 5.5 billion ($3.9 billion), the Flavian project would incorporate 1.8 GW of wind generation and 600 MW of pumped hydro with 18 hours of storage. The project would also include 300 MW of hydrogen electrolyzers, 50 MW of liquefaction, and a 50 MW hydrogen fuel cell.
Sunshine Hydro Chair Michael Myer said once fully operational the Flavian superhybrid project will provide 65 tons per day of competitively priced green hydrogen for transport and local industry, as well as 220 MW of green energy being supplied 24 hours per day, 365 days per year.
“We will apply our innovative closed loop hydropower model, which selects of a clever mix of energy inputs, outputs, and storage, which we call a superhybrid, to generate reliable green power and green hydrogen,” he said. “The combination of the long-duration pumped hydro combined with the fast-acting response of PEM (polymer electrolyte membrane) electrolysers can provide grid services second to none.”
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