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ARENA event aims to shake up renewable hydrogen and iron and steel

Leading research organizations, start-ups and companies have joined the collaboration. cabinet their projectsall financed by ARENA.

A panel discussion was held in a quiet conference room in Sydney, bringing together some of Australia’s most eminent renewable energy experts.

Top-level research organizations, startups and companies came to present their projects, all funded by ARENA. The goal is to encourage collaboration, discussion and understanding in the renewable hydrogen and low-carbon iron and steel sectors.

The total funding for the projects is $59.1 million. This is part of the Australian Government’s response and ARENA’s broader objective to support research and development across these sectors.

Tanya Hodgson, Business Development and Transactions Manager at ARENA, said of the roundtable: “We want to maximise the visibility of the work being done in this area and provide a permanent forum of experts to connect researchers, share knowledge and discuss challenges.”

A man points at a poster during the ARENA R&D roundtable

Sharpness

Australia faces many obstacles to achieving net zero emissions. The challenge to overcome is scaling the renewable energy sector so there is enough clean energy to replace fossil fuels. This means that new, cost-effective renewable energy technologies need to be deployed at a national scale for widespread adoption and implementation to meet the country’s growing energy needs and, more importantly, reduce emissions.

At its core, this is a problem of supply and demand.

Australian experts say clean, renewable energy must be readily available, cheap to produce and plentiful if the country is to meet its emissions targets.

In the case of renewable hydrogen, it will prove crucial as a clean, reliable alternative for industries that will not be served by electrification and typically use high-emission fuels, but there are many hurdles to overcome because it is expensive to produce and transport. These difficulties are holding back its widespread adoption and use in sectors ranging from transport to iron and steel.

In the iron and steel sector, producing iron from iron ore requires huge amounts of thermal energy. This energy is generated by burning fossil fuels. This is a prime example of a sector that would be well served by renewable hydrogen, but it too faces obstacles. Because the two sectors are so closely linked, recipients of funding for greener iron and steel solutions were included in the roundtable. Fostering collaboration and understanding on progress towards net zero emissions was key.

All funding recipients have been required to conduct research that will answer complex questions about renewable hydrogen and low-emission iron and steel production. The hope is that to develop more efficient and cost-effective technologies with the potential to operate at commercial scale. The spillover effect would be to reduce emissions in high-emitting sectors such as iron and steel. This journey could lead to breakthrough research and development and would be a huge boon on an economic scale, as our global partners could use the new technologies to export liquid hydrogen as well as iron and steel. It would also enable the use of a local, sustainable hydrogen energy ecosystem in high-emitting industries where fossil fuels could be replaced by hydrogen.

The renewable hydrogen industry “has the potential to create jobs and replace economic activity generated by Australia’s world-leading coal and gas exports, as demand for fossil fuels declines,” while green steel technologies can “drive job creation through investment in renewable energy, innovation and sustainable practices, supporting economic growth and prosperity,” said Justin Punch, ARENA Chair/Non-Executive Member.

Eric May, Managing Director of Future Energy Exports (FEE), presented details of his company’s proposed research and cooperation with ARENA.

May says one way to transport hydrogen is to convert it into liquid hydrogen, and “the energy stored in the hydrogen uses about a third of the energy to make liquid hydrogen,” making it “very expensive.” “We think you can cut that by half.” If FEE’s research bears fruit, it would be a huge step forward in making hydrogen energy more viable in the coming years, ultimately contributing to ARENA’s core mission of reducing emissions by 2030 and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

A man in the audience holds a microphone to ask a question

Paving the way forward

ARENA has been working tirelessly to commercialize renewable energy technologies since 2012. This is our second round focused on renewable hydrogen and we know there is more work to be done.

Zoe von Batenburg, chief investment officer at ARENA, said “basic research” is key to finding the technical and economic solutions needed for a sustainable and renewable energy future.

Von Batenburg added that ARENA’s approach shows that the path to net zero emissions “really starts with investment, innovative research and development, and collaboration with the best minds in Australia”.

Once the research is complete, we hope the projects will move on to large-scale commercialization. This allows for the adoption of cleaner energy practices to reduce emissions.