By Daniel J. Graeber
March 8, 2023 - A Japanese company said Tuesday it was in the early stages of a multibillion dollar, government-backed program with Australia that's geared toward exports of hydrogen, an emerging component of the energy transition.
Japan's government is putting $1.6 billion from a green investment fund into a project jointly pursued by Japanese and Australian parties in the coal-rich Latrobe Valley in Australia.
A joint venture -- Japan Suiso Energy -- aims to draw on coal as a feedstock to produce as much as 40,000 tons of hydrogen a year in a process that includes carbon capture and storage technology.
Economies of scale are looking for ways to develop a net-zero economy by moving away from fossil fuels. Hydrogen is an abundant element and a potent energy carrier that is advancing as an alternative form of energy.
Hydrogen production processes are described using a color spectrum. The most common form today is called grey hydrogen, where a steam reformation process splits methane (CH4) into its elemental components of hydrogen and carbon, with the carbon released as a pollutant.
Black or brown processes draw on coal as a feedstock, making it one of the dirtier methods available. Japan's efforts to include carbon storage technology addresses that, but developers said it would take time.
"This is a complex project and there is still some way to go in terms of approvals, design, construction and commissioning," Japan Suiso Energy CEO Eiichi Harada said in the statement published in The Japan Times.
Coal, meanwhile, is fading away from the energy landscape as power plants retire. Harada, however, was quoted in The Guardian as saying that putting coal and hydrogen together was a novel way to address the energy transition.
"This is truly a watershed moment for our combined efforts to decarbonize global energy production," he said.
Japan in 2021 launched a fit-for-purpose vessel, the Suiso Frontier, for the first-ever maritime shipment of hydrogen, carrying an estimated 75 metric tons of product. That delivery is part of a broader, joint initiative backed by Shell -- the Hydrogen Energy Supply-Chian Technology Research Association, or HySTRA -- to test maritime shipments and coal-based feedstocks.