How ABB is addressing unconsidered needs around hydrogen energy

Australia’s path to hydrogen production at scale is developing swiftly. Here’s a snapshot of where we’re heading, and where ABB can help.

A while back, Australia’s hydrogen journey was moving away from being an export-led play to a local-use market. We’re now seeing both develop in parallel, leading to myriad opportunities – and technical requirements.

For example, Andrew Forrest’s Fortescue Future Industries (FFI) is building a green hydrogen hub in North Queensland. Recognising that electrolysers are the essential piece of kit that are the bottleneck to hydrogen – not just in Australia but globally – he’s throwing a lot of capital and clout behind tackling that.

FFI’s Green Energy Manufacturing (GEM) Centre will make export-scale electrolysers and is set to be one of the largest electrolyser manufacturing facilities in the world.

Australia is perfectly placed to become a major exporter of hydrogen. We’ve got supply chains, physical pipelines, established relationships, offtake agreements and the technical talent in place.

Momentum in the domestic hydrogen scene

Meanwhile, when the export market seemed to be lagging – mostly because we lacked that electrolyser technical capability at scale onshore – companies also started looking at local opportunities for hydrogen use. 

Green steel is clearly a vital goal for decarbonisation initiatives and Shell Energy and BlueScope have a really exciting partnership. In December 2021, they announced their MoU to develop renewable hydrogen projects in the Illawarra region, south of Sydney, NSW.

They’ve come up with a great model, beginning with a pilot renewable hydrogen electrolyser plant at BlueScope’s existing Port Kembla Steelworks, as well as a hub concept for the two companies to collaborate with other organisations in the Illawarra. Given the diversity of industry, infrastructure and research activity in the region, this is an inspired concept and will help accelerate the growth of Australia’s green hydrogen industry.

BlueScope will be Shell’s foundation hydrogen client, with a long-term offtake agreement, plus the potential to develop other clients for hydrogen gas, which they can transfer to myriad local applications.

A diversified hydrogen economy in the making

It’s exciting to see all these small localised end-user developments get moving, with real commitment to the projects. It’s putting positive pressure on technology companies, including ABB, to deliver.

From my perspective, it’s a dream come true – and a lot faster than I could have anticipated even six months ago.

Industry is not relying on governments to push it out with a ‘do something around hydrogen with this funding’. The hydrogen economy in Australia has quickly become a demand market, both locally and for export opportunities, which is almost driving itself. Korea and Japan are already working with their current supply-chain partners in Australia to make sure they’ve got agreements in place, for example.

A different kind of export is in train from Woodside. The Perth-headquartered energy producer has announced it’s bought land to develop a hydrogen production project in the US. Woodside will export the technical expertise they’re amassing with local hydrogen projects H2Perth and H2Tas to build hydrogen capability in Oklahoma. The technology team is based in Perth, not the US.

This is so important for Australia: We are developing the technology, the capabilities, the skills base and the talent pipeline around the hydrogen economy onshore. That means that not only can Australia produce and export hydrogen, we can export the technology and the talent to help other markets generate green hydrogen, transform it, ship it and so on.

Supporting a critical period for the industry

The next five years of the hydrogen landscape will be hugely exciting for Australia.

The local projects will follow a traditional project-development process, as the Shell BlueScope green steel project is doing, creating a local market for their production beyond the steelworks. There will be a number of big export projects, which I believe will take a similar form to our large LNG export projects, only with green hydrogen onboard instead.

Now that the sod has been turned for the factory to make the electrolysers in Gladstone at the GEM (FFI’s acronym for it perfectly captures the vibe around the industry), there are three other manufacturers talking about setting up electrolyser manufacturing in Australia. It’s wonderful to see those high-value technology jobs building up in Australia. The value-add for iron ore has always happened offshore. The argument has been that wages here are too expensive to value-add to our raw materials. Hydrogen will prove that wrong.

ABB is firmly focused on the hydrogen opportunity – for us and our customers. We have deep technical expertise both here and overseas in Green Hydrogen Production and transportation. One very recent example of this is Lhyfe the French producer and supplier of green hydrogen’s first production site where ABB will control all the elements of the hydrogen production process at its fully automated 24/7 site in Bouin. Lhyfe has chosen a complete ABB control solution with a common and centralized database to reduce the development time and the complexity of automation systems.

In terms of production, ABB has a touchpoint across the hydrogen value chain, and we’re making sure all of our business units are communicating with each other and connecting the dots for our customers. We don’t build electrolysers, but we have technology in every other critical step of hydrogen production.

Take a closer look at the hydrogen ecosystem here

Adding value through integration across multiple packages

Successful operation of a hydrogen plant is complex, and requires optimum power and process management. ABB has world-leading solutions to power the electrolyser, control the process and take the resulting energy through the grid to consumers, with remote operations and digitalisation controlled by our ABB Ability suite.

For the electrical side, we have HV/MV power distribution, LV power distribution, intelligent switchgear, power management system (PMS), motors and drives and the control system. Marry that with the all import safety systems and the automation suite, which includes communications systems, intelligent field instruments, analysers, mobility, wiring and cable management and interoperability with third-party providers.

All that said, while we can do the whole thing, we are not pushing that. Our suite of solutions across electrical and automation is modular and flexible.

Especially at such a critical time for the industry in Australia, our job is to enable our customers to develop their vision for their hydrogen project and match our capabilities to help them bring that vision to fruition. ABB has highly skilled domain experts to assist our clients in scoping out their hydrogen plans. If they’re working on the needs for one domain, say Motion, and think there’s value in bringing in another part of our business, they will.

As we work to develop the hydrogen economy in Australia, it’s important to match our clients’ unconsidered needs with our unrecognised capabilities in the technology value chain.

Precisely because hydrogen energy is a nascent industry, we want to be sure needs that customers don’t know they have yet are considered, and that they at the very least are aware of how we can help. How we align needs and capabilities, without trying to push an all-in package for the sake of it, is a real differentiator for ABB and I’m proud of it.

ABB’s Sustainability Strategy includes our Mission to Zero. We know our clients have got similar goals, so helping them get there is part of our mission, and hydrogen will play a huge role.

Come and visit ABB Energy Industries team at the 2022 APPEA conference & exhibition within the Hydrogen Pavilion – from Monday 16 May to Thursday 19 May 2022.

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About the author

Michael Calvert

Michael has over 30 years leading sales and delivery teams in the process automation market, he currently leads the Process Automation Sales Team for the Energy Division of ABB. Michael is an experienced strategic sales leader with a demonstrated history of client co innovation. Adept in the use of the latest social media selling tools to deliver real disruptive market share growth. Seen by external and internal clients as a consultative solution focused trusted advisor. Having led many sales and delivery teams with varying sizes of P&L has provided a realistic and grounded approach to goal setting and people management. Michael is ultimately focused on delivering sustainable growth through ethical and client outcome focused behaviors.
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