Germany is looking Down Under to build up a renewable hydrogen supply chain as Europe’s largest economy intensifies efforts to secure massive future imports of the green gas, as well as exports of electrolysers, in the wake of its national hydrogen strategy.

As a first step, Australia and Germany have signed an agreement to carry out a joint feasibility study into the potential for closer collaboration and the future development of a hydrogen supply chain between the two countries.

The study will cover production, storage, transport and use of renewable hydrogen, assess current technology and research, and identify barriers for the development of a hydrogen industry.

“I am delighted that we are working with Australia to promote the development of a global green hydrogen economy,” German science minister Anja Karliczek said.

“It is important to me that Germany now sets the course for international green hydrogen partnerships, that German companies open the doors to sales markets for hydrogen technologies 'Made in Germany' at an early stage.”

German hydrogen strategy

Among those technologies are electrolysers, which produce green hydrogen by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen, using renewable electricity. Hydrogen can be used as clean fuel to decarbonise heavy industry, transport, aviation or shipping.

The cabinet of Chancellor Angela Merkel in June had approved a €9bn ($10.6bn) national hydrogen strategy that sets targets for the ramp-up of massive production of green H2 made from domestic renewable energy sources, as well as large-scale imports from the EU and beyond.

The ambitious plan includes €2bn to support green hydrogen projects in partner countries.

Berlin in the last couple of months has put out its feelers around the world for projects or countries that may offer good conditions for hydrogen partnerships. Karliczek earlier this year had already said the government is exploring opportunities for hydrogen production and the resulting supply chains in African countries.

Germany in its hydrogen strategy mainly bets on renewables-based hydrogen production domestically and from EU offshore wind, but also considers temporary imports of fossil-based H2 if linked to carbon capture and storage (CCS).

Australia could offer both, due to its massive potential for gigawatt-scale wind and solar power plants, as well as large potential for subsurface storage of CO2 linked to hydrogen production from coal or gas.

In its own national hydrogen strategy (see below), the Australian government acknowledges, however, that H2 made from coal through gasification linked to CCS in the best case still produces 0.71 kilogramme of CO2 per KG of hydrogen, and 0.76 KG of CO/KG of hydrogen if made from natural gas through steam methane reforming.

That compares to zero CO2 emissions for hydrogen produced via electrolysis with renewable power.

Billions in export earnings

Australia’s minister for trade, tourism and investment, Simon Birmingham, claims the potential supply chain between the two nations could eventually “lead to billions of dollars in export earnings” for Australia, while helping Germany meet its clean energy ambitions.

“These kinds of partnerships will be critical to further developing our emerging hydrogen industry and Australia’s future as a powerhouse in clean energy exports,” he said.

“Exploring opportunities for future collaboration on commercial scale operations and investments in hydrogen production is vital if Australia is to realise the significant economic benefits and job creation opportunities hydrogen brings.”

Birmingham added that Australia, which is already one of the world’s largest exporters of liquefied natural gas (LNG), was well positioned to become a major supplier of low emissions hydrogen, but noted it needed to continue to develop links with future importers.

The country’s energy minister Angus Taylor added that cooperating with key partners such as Germany will help to drive down the cost of new hydrogen technologies.

“Australia has the natural competitive advantage to be a world leader in exporting hydrogen. The expertise and infrastructure from our gas industry will assist us to use hydrogen as an energy source at home,” he said.

“Australia’s future hydrogen industry has the potential to generate 7,600 new jobs by 2050, many in regional Australia, with exports estimated to be worth around A$11bn a year in additional GDP.”

Australian hydrogen strategy

In addition to the agreement with Germany, over the past year Australia has signed a letter of intent to develop a hydrogen action plan with Korea, entered a pact to cooperate with Japan on hydrogen and fuel cells, while it has also agreed to pursue a memorandum of understanding with Singapore by the end of the year on low emissions technologies. In April this year, Australia also became a member of the US Center for Hydrogen Strategy.

These initiatives form part of Australia’s National Hydrogen Strategy, which this year is focused on international collaboration, national coordination, supporting priority industry projects and legislative reviews.

The government has committed A$370m towards its hydrogen industry since the release of the strategy late last year, while the Australian Renewable Energy Agency recently received 36 expressions of interest, for projects totaling more than A$3bn, for the current $70m Renewable Hydrogen Deployment Funding Round.

Oil and gas giants BHP, Woodside and Engie have been shortlisted for the next stage of the round, along with ATCO Australia, Macquarie Group, Australian Gas Networks and APT Management Services.