Renewable energy could drive Australia’s next resource boom as demand for hydrogen (H2) surges worldwide, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) said.

Since the meltdown at the Fukishima nuclear plant in 2011, the Japanese Government has accelerated its search for new energy sources, spending more than $16bn on H2 research and development.

As an established energy exporter with proven infrastructure, two Australian projects are already being investigated with the goal of exporting H2 to power the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Japan working towards renewable ‘H2 society’

Since the Fukishima meltdown in 2011, almost 95% of Japan’s energy has come from imported fossil fuels. They are the world’s largest importers of LNG and second-largest importer of coal, behind only China.

However, that could change soon as Tokyo’s Governor is embracing H2 as a future energy source, working to establish a ‘H2 society’ in time for the 2020 Olympics.

Looking ahead from the Rio games in 2016, Governor Yoichi Masuzoe said, “The 1964 Tokyo Olympics left the Shinkansen high-speed train system as its legacy. The upcoming Olympics will leave a H2 society as its legacy.”

ARENA is supporting the development of an Australian H2 industry, launching a funding round in late 2017 to accelerate innovation in the creation, transportation and transformation of H2 into energy at the point of use. Successful applicants will be announced soon.

ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said there is an opportunity for Australia to export its renewable energy export to the world.

“Australian resources have been exported around the world for decades, and renewable energy presents a new opportunity to capitalise on our natural riches.”

“Today Australia exports approximately three quarters of the energy it produces, in the form of coal and gas. As demand for these resources cools over coming decades, we want our renewables industry to be ready to provide the energy to supply the world’s future needs.”

“ARENA is supporting innovation across the hydrogen supply chain, aiming to make renewable H2 commercial and competitive, both here and around the world,” he explained.

Japanese-Queenland partnership to produce renewable H2

Two proposals are on the table for Australia to create and export the H2 required to meet Japanese demand ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, where at least 6,000 cars and 100 buses will be powered by H2 fuel cells.

One project aims to take advantage of the Queensland’s rich solar resources to power an electrolyser and create renewable ‘green’ liquid H2.

The Queensland Government expressed support for the Japanese plan less than three months after Kawasaki Heavy Industries announced that they will partner with the Victorian and Commonwealth Governments to gassify brown coal to make non-renewable H2 in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley.

Under the proposal, Northern Oil will develop renewable H2 at its Yarwun refinery, which is close to the Gladstone deep water port and receives more than 300 days of sunshine every year.

Green H2 created will be shipped to Japan on specialised ocean tankers, which are already under development by Kawasaki Heavy Industries.