Over the last few years, Australia has been emerging as something of an anomaly on global action against climate change. While many of the biggest players on the world stage have made moves to shift away from the biggest polluting fuels, with coal at the top of the list, Australia is seemingly doing the opposite. Now it plans on producing hydrogen fuel from brown coal.
From building ports to export coal smack bang in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef – which has suffered the worst bleaching in recorded history due to climate change, which burning the coal is creating – to the reopening of previously shut coal mines, the nation is pushing ahead regardless of the overwhelming world consensus that we need to stop using coal.
Now the state of Victoria is planning on shutting down one of the most polluting coal power stations in the country, but is instead talking to Japan about replacing it with one that turns brown coal into hydrogen, which would then be used to fuel the country's hydrogen power cars. Japan is planning on shifting to a hydrogen-only economy, in a bid to cut their emissions, but experts have pointed out that if this is how it is being achieved, then the benefit is probably negated.
Talking to the Guardian Australia, Dr Patrick Moriarty, who is an expert in alternative energy, said the replacement of one coal plant with another that is using coal to make hydrogen is simply a greenwash for industry. Considering the plant will have to burn the coal anyway to make the gas, little is changed.
Hydrogen fuel cell cars are being touted as a way to help cut carbon emissions. Using hydrogen and oxygen as a fuel instead of fossil fuels in order to produce electricity, they produce only water and heat as emissions, meaning that they can dramatically cut the pollution pumped out by vehicles. This includes not only greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon dioxide, but also air pollution in the form of small particulates that when inhaled by people can lead to all sorts of health problems.
The vast majority of liquid hydrogen produced for these vehicles is made from one of the most potent greenhouse gasses, methane, although this process still produces some CO2. But now the state of Victoria is planning on teaming up with a Japanese company to build a plant to produce it from brown coal, instead.
Brown coal, also known as lignite, is a type of rock that has been formed from peat that has been subjected to massive amounts of heat and pressure. It is typically younger in age than the black coal that many are more familiar with, and is considered of lower rank as it produces less heat and thus less energy. However, critics argue the mining of brown coal is equally as destructive and bad for the planet.