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Friday, August 3, 2018

Transition from thermal coal exports

Australia exports 200 million tonnes of thermal coal each year.

Japan is the largest importer, importing 80 million tonnes per year. In planning to eliminate its reliance on fossil fuel imports, Japan is looking to CO2-free hydrogen to replace its imports of coal and LNG, used primarily for electricity generation, and oil, used primarily for road transport.

One step in the 20-year transition timetable is to invest in large solar PV installations in Saudi Arabia and construction of a 'hydrogen pipeline" to deliver hydrogen produced by electrolysis to Japan.

Another step is the construction of combined-cycle gas turbine power stations that have integrated gasification plants to convert imported coal to gas to fuel them. These plants can later run on hydrogen when sufficient supply is available.

Australia and Japan could co-ordinate projects in this transition of Japan's energy systems.
One of the benefits of co-ordination is that Australia's industry and workforce has a planned transition in how it prepares energy for export, adapting employment skills and infrastructure as the plan progresses.

Another of the benefits is that part of the infrastructure development is undertaken by Australia, sharing the effort so that Japan can focus its investments on the most efficient technology to use the energy it imports.

The long-term transition would see Australia's coal export terminals replaced with hydrogen export facilities and the fleet of bulk ore carriers replaced with specialised hydrogen shipping vessels. The coal mining workforce would gradually be replaced with a workforce that constructs and operates hydrogen production plants.

During the early years of the transition it may be beneficial to convert hydrogen and coal to methane and make use of existing natural gas pipelines, LNG export terminals and LNG tankers to transport the hydrogen to Japan's existing LNG import facilities.

One benefit for Japan would be to avoid the time and cost of building integrated coal-gasifiers with new combined-cycle gas turbine power stations and fuel cell generators. The gasification can be carried out in Australia before exporting the coal with hydrogen as LNG.

Large-scale solar farms are currently built with inverters that are a significant part of the cost.
The inverters change direct-current electricity produced by the solar panels into alternating-current electricity for distribution on the electricity grid.

Inverters aren't needed when the goal is to produce hydrogen by electrolysis with the electricity generated.

A second income-stream from renewable electricity production will assist farmers struggling with drought near coal-mining regions. Solar PV installations could be designed to be "stock-friendly" for Australian livestock producers, and not copies of European installations where fields are covered with closely-spaced solar panels just above ground level.

Cattle and solar PV systems
Cattle and solar PV systems

The renewable energy generated would be fed to electrolysis units creating hydrogen.
The hydrogen is to be transferred into methanation units that have pulverised coal handling equipment where the hydrogen and coal is transformed into methane, ready for transfer to LNG export terminals.

Thyssenkrupp coal handling system
Thyssenkrupp coal handling system
Gasification technologies
Gasification technologies

See Thyssenkrupp Australia - "Power-to-gas: Storing wind and sun [energy] in natural gas"

Power-to-gas: storing wind and sun renewable energy in natural gas

The 2015 Japanese government report "Overview of Assessment by Power Generation Cost Verification Working Group", Institute of Energy Economics, Japan (IEEJ) explained that renewable energy costs are higher in Japan than in other countries, and showed Australia has a comparative advantage in large-scale wind and solar installations.
"Unit construction costs for solar PV and wind power generation systems in Japan are higher than in other countries. ...Apparent factors behind the cost gap include higher personnel costs, complex topography and FIT scheme introduction backgrounds in Japan." (at pages 8-9)

International comparison of unit construction costs for solar PV generation systems

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