Sun Metals to build NQ’s first renewable hydrogen plant

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North Queensland is set to get its first renewable hydrogen plant that will be built at Sun Metal’s zinc refinery in Townsville with the support of funding from the Queensland government’s $15 million Hydrogen Industry Development Fund. The facility will be collocated with the zinc refiner’s operating 125 MW solar farm.

Sun Metals built the solar farm in 2018 to supply its power-intensive zinc refinery near Townsville, making it the largest industrial solar project in Australia. However, the project that covers one-third of the refinery’s energy needs is today plagued by system strength issues that were recently identified in North Queensland. In March, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) said the output of the Haughton and Sun Metals solar farms and the Mt Emerald wind farm could face major constraints and even be slashed to zero under certain conditions.

On Thursday, Sun Metals’ CEO Kiwon Park said the hydrogen project was part of the company’s long-term plans for a totally integrated operation including its zinc refinery, solar farm and other operations at Stuart. “This first phase of our hydrogen project will only be the beginning of developing a substantial renewables hydrogen industry based in Townsville that we hope in the long-term will create export opportunities,” he said.

Alongside Gladstone and Redlands, Townsville has been identified as one of Queensland’s hydrogen industry hotspots with significant investment already in place in those regions. Namely, Gladstone and Townsville have already been identified by the private sector as prime locations for renewable hydrogen production and export opportunities, while the Queensland Government’s Redlands Research Facility has been selected to host the QUT-led hydrogen pilot plant.

The traditional coal and gas hub of Gladston is set to host two major projects – a gigawatt-scale green hydrogen and ammonia development industrial complex called the H2-HubTM Gladstone, and a gas injection facility to blend renewable hydrogen into its natural gas network. This would make Gladstone the first entire city in the nation to be on a blend of natural gas and hydrogen. Most recently, another 3.6 GW solar-powered hydrogen facility has been announced for the region.

Hydrogen interest

To accelerate the development of its green hydrogen industry, the Queensland government has made funding available for a pipeline of new projects across the state. On Thursday, State Development Minister Kate Jones said the $15 million Hydrogen Industry Development Fund had attracted 23 expressions of interest, reflecting the significant opportunity for renewable hydrogen in Queensland.

“The fund is ensuring that Queensland is leading the way in renewable hydrogen development in Australia,” she said. The fund was launched under the government’s $19 million hydrogen strategy, which aims to position Queensland at the forefront of Australia’s renewable hydrogen production by 2030.

“The Queensland Government has committed to transition to a clean energy future and we are pleased to be supporting regional projects that promote innovation, deliver economic growth and highly skilled jobs for Queenslanders,” Jones said.

For Sun Metal’s project, the government has allocated a $5 million grant in a bid to invest in new industries that would be essential to creating jobs as Queensland recovers from Covid-19. “The project will establish the region’s first renewable hydrogen supply chain and depending on the final scale, will deliver more than 25 local jobs during construction and 12 ongoing jobs once it’s up and running,” Member for Mundingburra Coralee O’Rourke said.