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AWU tips jobs boom in hydrogen transition

April 12, 2021

The Australian Workers’ Union says a key NSW Government inquiry into the development of a national hydrogen industry could help put the state at the front of a global hydrogen revolution.

And with its members potentially involved at all stages of the hydrogen generation cycle, it says: “The AWU is the union for hydrogen workers.”

“The AWU believes there is a significant economic and employment opportunity in the hydrogen industry,” Acting National Secretary Misha Zelinsky says in the union’s submission to the NSW Legislative Council’s Standing Committee on State Development.

“The NSW Government has the opportunity to become a first-mover in this space.

“This opportunity would allow NSW to secure the jobs of its industrial workforce (much of which is based in the regions) as well as creating potentially thousands of new jobs.”

The AWU submission says hydrogen will be a crucial tool to allow industry to continue and prosper as Australia moves towards meeting its emission commitments under the Paris Agreement.

It says its members have a substantial role to play in the emerging industry, across both the “green” and “blue” hydrogen sectors.” (Blue hydrogen is created from fossil fuel sources, with carbon emissions captured and stored. Green hydrogen is made from non-fossil sources.)

The AWU says Australian jobs will be created in:
• The extraction of natural gas and in gas energy facilities (an essential input for blue hydrogen).
• Construction (including solar, wind and hydro power facilities as well as future hydrogen pipelines)
• Chemical manufacturing, preparation and storage (relevant to hydrogen gas, ammonia solution and hydrogen liquefaction).
• Water facilities.
• Gas storage (a key issue for the success and growth of the global hydrogen sector).

“AWU members also work in Australia’s steelworks, aluminium smelters and other manufacturing facilities – these would stand to benefit from industrial-scale availability of low and zero-carbon energy,” Mr Zelinsky says.

“A hydrogen economy will help us use our vast bauxite reserves to fuel those aluminium smelters, and hydrogen will be essential for the transition to ‘green’ steelmaking.

“And with Australia having the largest iron ore deposits in the world and abundant energy inputs, green steel has been identified as a significant strategic opportunity for the country to value-add in the metals supply chain, as well as an opportunity for a new era of low emissions manufacturing.”

Although Australia’s present hydrogen output is primarily used in the oil and chemical sectors, the global export market for hydrogen is also expected to be huge.

Goldman Sachs forecasts that by 2050 the European hydrogen market alone will grow to €2.2 trillion a year while Bank of America forecasts the global market at $US11 trillion.

The submission notes several large hydrogen projects are already being developed here, with more proposed:

• A consortium of Japanese and Australian companies are working together in Victoria’s La Trobe Valley to produce hydrogen via brown-coal gasification, with the intention to implement carbon capture and storage in the near term.
• Coregas plans to acquire hydrogen-powered prime movers and build a hydrogen refueling facility in Port Kembla, NSW.
• Fortescue Metals Group intends becoming carbon-neutral by 2030, entailing significant development of its green-hydrogen capacity.
• The South Australian Government has installed Australia’s largest hydrogen electrolyser, feeding into the natural gas network, and is also investing in the largest “green ammonia” plant in the world.
• Canadian energy company ATCO has established a Clean Energy Innovation Hub in Jandakot, Western Australia with Commonwealth support, and is already distributing hydrogen blended with natural gas through its existing gas network.
• The CSIRO’s “ammonia-to-hydrogen” fuelling system, demonstrated in 2018, has been described as a potential “game-changer” in hydrogen storage.

Mr Zelinsky sounds a note of caution, however, saying the excitement relating to hydrogen should not be used to dismiss the significant risks to existing heavy industry in NSW and the value of employment in the gas and manufacturing sectors.

“Global demand for hydrogen to provide energy and feedstock to the industrial and transport sectors is not expected to mature until 2040,” he says.

“Thus, hydrogen cannot solve our state’s existing problems in the near term.

“It is critical that governments act today to lower the cost pressures on manufacturing businesses, particularly those flowing from out-of-control gas exports and sky-rocketing power prices.

“The AWU does not see gas and hydrogen as ‘either/or’ propositions: rather, a successful export hydrogen industry will depend on the generation of ‘blue hydrogen’ – which combines the energy-efficiency of natural gas and low emissions from the creation and use of hydrogen.”

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