The increasing global interest in green hydrogen as a clean energy source is driving the establishment of hydrogen manufacturing facilities, which are vital for our energy transition. In this evolving landscape, it is crucial to recognise the distinct environmental planning considerations specific to hydrogen facilities compared to other industrial or manufacturing projects in Australia. Furthermore, the development of hydrogen infrastructure will be instrumental in fulfilling our domestic market needs and capitalising on international opportunities. With careful planning and execution, Australia has the potential to emerge as a prominent energy superpower.
Understanding the Development Planning Landscape
Green hydrogen manufacturing facilities in Australia
Significant strides are being made towards establishing green hydrogen manufacturing facilities in Australia. These facilities will be key to unlocking the potential of hydrogen as an energy source, fostering economic growth, and reducing our carbon emissions. However successful deployment of the infrastructure requires comprehensive social and environmental planning that will address various technical, regulatory, and social challenges.
Regulatory framework and policy initiatives
Australia has demonstrated a strong commitment to green hydrogen development through its regulatory framework and policy initiatives. The Australian government has implemented regulations and incentives to support the growth of the hydrogen industry. This includes the National Hydrogen Strategy, which sets out a clear roadmap for hydrogen development and identifies opportunities for collaboration between the government, industry, and research sectors.
Economic, environmental, and social factors driving planning considerations
The planning considerations for hydrogen facilities are driven by a combination of economic, environmental, and social factors. From an economic perspective, hydrogen manufacturing facilities have the potential to create jobs, attract investment, and contribute to the country’s export capabilities. Environmentally, hydrogen offers a clean energy alternative, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and supporting the transition to a low-carbon economy. Public acceptance of hydrogen facilities is crucial, and careful planning and implementation of effective communication strategies necessary to develop community trust in hydrogen technologies will be critical to its success.
Key Planning Considerations for Green Hydrogen Facilities
Community perception and trust-building
Developing community trust is essential to successfully establishing hydrogen manufacturing facilities. Public perception of hydrogen technologies is influenced by various factors, including safety concerns, familiarity, and awareness. Community concern regarding the risk of hydrogen requires special consideration. Public concern and perception are still influenced by the Hindenburg tragedy 85 years ago. Yet hydrogen is considered safer than conventional fossil fuels on a multitude of levels.
Good messaging to the community will be crucial to engage with local communities, addressing their concerns, and provide accurate information regarding the safety and benefits of hydrogen. The Australian Government’s Developing Community Trust in Hydrogen report provides valuable insights and strategies to build trust among communities.
Water availability and management
Water is a critical resource in hydrogen production, and careful consideration must be given to water availability and sustainable usage.
Renewable energy integration
Renewable energy sources play a crucial role in powering hydrogen production processes. The integration of renewable energy generation with hydrogen facilities ensures a clean and sustainable energy supply chain. To provide energy firming to power the electrolysis process, for every 1MW of electrolyser capacity, approximately 3MW of renewable energy generation would be required. This highlights the importance that, as a society, we focus on infrastructure development, and the required planning approvals, and investment pathways to the development of renewable infrastructure to support hydrogen production.
Transport and logistics
Transport and logistics are complex considerations for hydrogen facilities. Hydrogen is typically transported as gas or stored in liquid form, necessitating specialised infrastructure and safety protocols. Developing a robust hydrogen distribution network, including pipelines and transportation modes, is crucial for the efficient and safe delivery of hydrogen to end users. Transitioning into this technology will require in-depth environmental planning skills as well as specialised services such as dangerous goods hazard and risk assessment.
Electrolysis and ammonia processing
Electrolysis is a key process for green hydrogen production, and advancements in electrolysis technologies have significant implications for facility planning. Different electrolysis technologies, such as proton exchange membrane (PEM) and alkaline electrolysers, offer varying scalability, efficiency, and cost implications. Additionally, the processing and handling of ammonia, used as a hydrogen carrier, requires careful planning and consideration.
Comparative analysis with other industrial or manufacturing facilities
When comparing the planning considerations for green hydrogen facilities with traditional industrial or manufacturing projects in Australia, it is important to identify areas of overlap and areas of difference. While many planning principles can be universally applied across industries, the unique characteristics of hydrogen facilities require additional focus on certain aspects.
Community perception and acceptance
Community acceptance and trust-building considerations differ when developing a green hydrogen facility compared to a traditional manufacturing facility. While both types of projects require engaging with communities and addressing concerns, hydrogen facilities may face unique challenges due to public perceptions and the novelty of these technologies.
Hydrogen facilities may face higher scrutiny and skepticism due to the historic memory of incidents like the Hindenburg disaster. The public can associate hydrogen with potential safety risks, which can affect community acceptance. This has been referred to as the ‘Hindenburg Syndrome’. It is likely that extensive education and awareness programs to dispel misconceptions and highlight the potential of hydrogen as a clean energy source are required. This will need to be underpinned by the abundance of empirical data that demonstrates risks associated with hydrogen are manageable, and in general terms, less than those associated with hydrocarbon gaseous and liquid fuels.
Green hydrogen facilities as well as traditional industrial or manufacturing projects require that planning approval applications are underpinned with accurate and comprehensive environmental impact assessments. These documents need to assess the impact that the activity will have on social, cultural, natural, and economic factors of our environment. Further, they will include the identification of risk to environmental factors from the development such as air quality, water resources, ecological resources, and the safety and wellbeing of our communities.
When the development of hydrogen infrastructure ensures acceptable levels of environmental impacts, adheres to the principles of ecologically sustainable development (ESD), and is deemed appropriate within the community, the implementation of this transformative technology holds immense potential for substantial advancements in environmental sustainability. Green hydrogen production relies on renewable energy sources, resulting in emissions that consist solely of water. This emphasises the critical role of integrating renewable energy into the planning phase of hydrogen facilities.
Safety is of utmost importance for both hydrogen facilities and traditional industrial projects. Both types of facilities must strictly adhere to safety standards and regulations to ensure the well-being of workers, nearby communities, and the environment. However, hydrogen facilities require specific safety considerations due to their unique properties. For instance, hydrogen is an invisible and odorless gas. While highly flammable, it is also the lightest element in its gaseous form, making it highly dispersible and non-toxic. Therefore, the planning process for hydrogen facilities should prioritise the inclusion of advanced safety systems, such as leak detection and emergency response protocols, to mitigate risks and ensure safety.
Water and waste management
Water availability and sustainable usage are vital considerations for both hydrogen and traditional industrial projects. Interestingly, when comparing the water consumption per megajoule of energy, green hydrogen production does not necessarily consume more water than the production of fossil fuels. In fact, the water footprint of green hydrogen production is comparable to that of conventional fossil fuel production. However, effective water management strategies, including water recycling, are crucial in the planning process for green hydrogen production. Exploring alternative water resources can further enhance the sustainability of green hydrogen manufacturing. Additionally, waste management, particularly the treatment of effluent generated during the water demineralisation process, must be a key aspect of planning to reduce, manage, and minimize environmental impact.
Integrating renewable energy generation infrastructure is critical as we transition to net zero. The success of our ability to produce green hydrogen on a national and global scale is dependent on the deployment of large-scale renewable energy infrastructure. A recent Bloomberg New Energy Finance Ltd report predicts that Australia will need 800 GW of solar and wind to meet its 2050 net-zero and hydrogen export ambitions.
The establishment and integration of the necessary infrastructure for efficient energy supply to power the electrolysis process adds an extra layer of complexity to the planning considerations for hydrogen facilities.
Transport and logistics
Transport and logistics will be an essential consideration for green hydrogen facilities and traditional industrial projects during our transition. Hydrogen facilities face unique challenges in relation to their transport as a gas, in liquid form, or as ammonia. Specialised infrastructure such as pipelines, storage tanks/tankers will be required along with appropriate safety protocols. Ensuring the safe and efficient distribution of hydrogen to end-users will be critical to the success of green hydrogen and our transition. Planning for hydrogen facilities will include the development of a robust hydrogen distribution network that considers factors such as proximity to demand centres, infrastructure costs, and safety measures.
The planning process for hydrogen facilities and traditional industrial projects in Australia shares significant similarities. However, the production of green hydrogen necessitates specific considerations and assessments in infrastructure planning. One crucial aspect is establishing community trust in hydrogen technologies and guiding communities through the transition from the Hindenburg Syndrome to a net-zero future.
This can be achieved through community engagement and collaboration, combined with a comprehensive evaluation of risks and impacts on social, cultural, and environmental aspects. Key considerations include water availability and management, risk assessment and mitigation, evaluation of impacts on cultural and natural environments, assessment of cumulative effects from large-scale renewable energy integration, and transportation and logistics planning.
By approaching the planning process holistically and leveraging expertise from the industrial and manufacturing sectors, Australia can foster sustainable development and successfully transition into a future energy superpower. With careful planning, Australia can consolidate its position as a renewable energy leader and make substantial contributions to the global transition toward a cleaner and more sustainable future.
If you have any questions or feedback regarding this rapidly evolving planning landscape, please feel free to contact me. I am here to assist and address any inquiries you may have