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Hydrogen kickstart as Whyalla turns off coal

The Malinauskas and Albanese governments will jointly spend $100 million on infrastructure at the planned Port Bonython Hydrogen Hub near Whyalla, as the city steelworks’ coke ovens are turned off for an electric alternative.

Sep 25, 2023, updated Sep 25, 2023
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Premier Peter Malinauskas in Whyalla on Monday morning. Photo: David Simmons/InDaily

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Premier Peter Malinauskas in Whyalla on Monday morning. Photo: David Simmons/InDaily

A joint state-federal press release this morning said that along with private sector funding, the redeveloped Port Bonython on the Upper Spencer Gulf was expected to host projects worth up to $13 billion and generate as much as 1.8 million tonnes of hydrogen by 2030.

“With expanses of available land, abundant solar and wind resources, South Australia is primed to become a world-class, low-cost hydrogen supplier and the SA Government has a comprehensive plan to develop a hydrogen industry in the Spencer Gulf, including through its world leading Hydrogen Jobs Plan, which will include development of a hydrogen electrolyser, power station and storage facility,” the statement said.

The $100 million to be spent on the hub will be made up of $70 million from the federal government and $30 million from the state government.

The Malinauskas Government said in July that it had received interest from 60 organisations globally about being part of the $593 million hydrogen plant. 

The Albanese Government has budgeted $2 billion for a Hydrogen Headstart program to scale up development of Australia’s renewable hydrogen industry, with regional hydrogen hubs planned around the nation.

It said that by 2050 Australia’s hydrogen industry was projected to generate $50 billion in additional GDP and create over 16,000 jobs.

“We’re working with the Malinauskas Government to develop the Port Bonython Hydrogen Hub, which will support regional jobs and take us a step closer to becoming a renewable energy superpower,” Albanese said.

“The global shift to clean energy and decarbonised economies is a huge economic opportunity for Australia. We are determined to grasp this opportunity and are investing half a billion dollars into regional hydrogen hubs all around Australia.”

Malinauskas said SA was “blessed with the key ingredients the world needs to decarbonise international economies”.

“Through our Hydrogen Jobs Plan, my Government is seizing the mantle to produce a world leading hydrogen electrolyser, power plant and storage facility,” he said.

“We’re working closely with industry to maximise this opportunity to grow a new industry, which has potential to create thousands of jobs and improve the standard of living for South Australians for generations to come.”

“Renewable hydrogen can be used as a reduction gas to decarbonise South Australia’s iron industry – helping fortify our industrial capacity for a zero-carbon future.”

State Opposition Leader David Speirs said he supported the plans but was sceptical that the government funding would come anywhere near what was required.

“It just hasn’t been done anywhere else in the world,” he told ABC Radio.

“There’s just lots of questions to be answered.”

The hydrogen announcement comes after Sanjeev Gupta’s GFG Alliance on Friday turned off the Whyalla steelworks coking ovens after 55 years of operation, at a ceremony attended by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Premier Peter Malinauskas.

Whyalla steelworks. Photo: David Simmons/InDaily.

In a prerecorded speech to Whyalla workers, Gupta said the company was making a transition to a “brighter, greener, more productive” future, with hydrogen-powered production of the material at the centre of the “new era”.

The pivot includes the installation of a state-of-the-art electric furnace.

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“This town has been successfully mining iron ore for more than a century and producing steel for over 50 years,” Gutpta said.

“However, we now realise that the carbon that has helped build the past has also been slowly and quietly suffocating our planet is now reaching a tipping point where it accelerates climate change, turning the world into a pressure cooker.”

“So now it’s time to rethink and re-engineer how the steel we make can continue to build our world going forward.”

Albanese said that Whyalla had an “extraordinarily optimistic future”.

“We know that the world is in transition and that is why economies and indeed businesses that get ahead of shaping the future will be ones that are successful into the future,” he said.

“There is an opportunity for Australia to be a renewable energy superpower and South Australia has been at the forefront of the transition to renewables for a long period of time, it can certainly be at the forefront of this transition to being a renewable energy superpower.”

When asked how the $100 million joint investment would bring down electricity prices for Australians, the Prime Minister said it would because “businesses are making this decision”.

“This isn’t a charity here,” he said.

Albanese also thanked the steelworks’ coke oven workers, who will be redeployed in the plant, for their “contribution, not just to the economy here at Whyalla, but to the national economy as well”.

“The closing of this chapter is not the end of this story; it’s the opening of a new chapter that will be brighter, more prosperous, and which we’ll see a growth in employment,” he said.

“We have an incredible opportunity to have a future made here in Australia. We see regional employment in cities like this as being the key to Australia’s future employment growth.”

-with AAP

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