H2U moves forward with 3 GW green ammonia export plant

By Trevor Brown on March 12, 2020

According to a statement released by the Queensland government last week, the clean infrastructure development firm Hydrogen Utility (H2U) has purchased a 171-hectare site in Gladstone, Queensland, where it intends to build a green ammonia export plant with initial operations beginning in 2025.

This “H2-Hub” will be built in stages, scaling up over time to reach up to 3 GW electrolyzer capacity for green hydrogen production, and up to 5,000 tons per day of green ammonia. This is at least twice the size of a conventional natural gas-based world-scale ammonia plant.

Now that the site has been purchased, the project moves into feasibility and permitting stages: “With the land in Gladstone secured under contract the project will now move into master planning and detailed feasibility, targeting approvals by 2023 and first operation in 2025.”

The announcement was made by the Honourable Cameron Dick, Queensland Minister for State Development, Manufacturing, Infrastructure and Planning.

Minister for State Development Cameron Dick said this was great news for the Gladstone community, as it could potentially create over 100 operational jobs and drive new exports for green hydrogen and ammonia ...

“With green hydrogen and ammonia emerging as a strong, competitive energy source, we are really pleased that Gladstone is on the radar for companies seeking to establish large-scale industrial projects. This will assist to diversify Gladstone’s economy and provide secure, ongoing operation jobs for workers and income for their families,” Mr Dick said.

Dr Attilio Pigneri CEO and Founder of H2U said “H2-HubTM Gladstone will be built in stages to integrate up to 3 GW in electrolysis plant, and up to 5,000 tonnes per day ammonia production capacity.”

“The integration of mature technologies – such as electrolysis and ammonia synthesis – at industrial scale, powered by 100 per cent renewable power supply, meets the emerging demand for decarbonised products in the energy, chemicals and mobility markets of North Asia.”

“Japan for example, has developed a well-structured, 30-year plan to transition its energy economy, where green hydrogen and ammonia imports will play a key role in the decarbonisation of its power and industry sectors,” said Dr Pigneri.

“Queensland with its strong existing trading relationships with Japan is well placed to capitalise on the opportunities from this new industry, including sustained investment in renewable energy generation, and the transition of jobs and skills from extractive resources to a future-proof industry.”

Queensland Government media statement, Eye on Gladstone for proposed gigawatt-scale green hydrogen and ammonia development, February 27 2020

I wrote in November 2019 about H2U’s proposed H2-Hub in Cape Hardy, South Australia, on the south coast, two and a half thousand kilometers away from Gladstone on the north east of the continent. At Cape Hardy, H2U is partnering with iron ore exporter Iron Road and regional farmers’ cooperative Eyre Peninsula Co-operative Bulk Handling Ltd on a similar “Green Manufacturing and Export Hub.” The green ammonia capacity for that H2-Hub has been given as 1,200 tons per day.

Click to enlarge. Artist’s impression for Iron Road’s Cape Hardy Stage 2 Capesize Port, Port Lincoln Hydrogen and Ammonia Supply Chain Demonstrator, South Australia’s Hydrogen Action Plan, September 2019. Source: H2U.

These export-scale plants will build upon H2U’s pilot plant, scaled at 35-40 MW electrolyzer and 60 tons per day ammonia, in Port Lincoln, near Cape Hardy. I wrote about H2U’s Port Lincoln green ammonia pilot plant in February 2018, when it was first announced, and again in July 2018, when thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions was named as the technology licensor and EPC partner.

According to the presentation made by H2U CEO Attilio Pigneri at the AEA-Australia conference in August 2019, the Port Lincoln pilot plant could begin construction in late 2020 and start commercial operations as early as 2022.

This new Gladstone project is not the first H2-Hub that H2U has announced but, with 3 GW of electrolyzers, it is certainly the largest so far.

Two notes on this scale:

First, unlike conventional thermochemical plants, electrolyzers are fundamentally modular: you can build and begin operating a small one, and then add more units to the site. On one hand, there’s no guarantee that this final capacity will be reached, nor any indication of when; on the other hand, the financial hurdles can be low, making it far easier to get started on a small initial project than on a massive, all-or-nothing, multi-billion-dollar investment. Conventional economies of scale don’t apply to electrochemical technologies.

Second, while this is H2U’s biggest project so far, it sits beside the announcement made by Siemens late last year for its Murchison Renewable Hydrogen Project, in Western Australia, which boasted of an electrolyzer capacity scaling up to 5 GW. The hydrogen carrier for that export project has not been announced, but green ammonia is a prime contender.