Thursday, December 7, 2023

Green gas gets another backer

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New Zealand’s first green hydrogen plant has had an added boost with international energy and investment company Mitsui signing on as a strategic partner with Ballance Agri-Nutrients and Taranaki based Hiringa Energy.
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Ballance’s Kapuni gas to urea plant in Taranaki plays a key role in the country’s first foray into hydrogen-powered transport in the joint project announced last year with Hiringa. 

The plant will take wind-generated electricity and turn it to hydrogen gas for use in both nitrogen fertiliser production and as fuel for hydrogen-powered vehicles from late 2021.

The $50 million project means Ballance will no longer use natural gas as its main hydrogen production source for fertiliser, instead producing hydrogen for the plant using an electrolysis process. 

The electricity generated by wind turbines can be used to produce hydrogen through electrolysis, to power the plant or to feed into the national grid.

Hiringa spokeswoman Cathy Clennett said Mitsui has been heavily involved in developing hydrogen technology in Japan where it is a key focus of government efforts to decarbonise the economy.

“They are also involved in developing a hydrogen refuelling network in California and have a focus on heavy transport powered by hydrogen.” 

She wouldn’t say how much Mitsui is investing in the project.

From early next year the first generation of heavy transport trucks will be available in NZ with Ballance among the first to use them.

“There is an obvious synergy here for a company like Ballance to decarbonise heavy transport.”

Clennett said it is tough for hydrogen to compete with natural gas but the Ballance project with its multiple uses for the electricity and the hydrogen means it is very viable. 

The electrolysis process will be powered by four large wind turbines generating 16 megawatts of electricity.

The project has also recently benefitted from a $20 million Provincial Growth Fund investment made by the Government in early March. 

The plant is intended to become a scalable model for other industrial operations looking to replace natural gas as key energy source. 

Ultimately, the green hydrogen project aims to generation enough hydrogen to supply up to 6000 cars or 300 buses and trucks a year. 

The project is a key move to balance the Government’s earlier decision to disallow any further gas or oil exploration.

Clennett said the first stages of installing a hydrogen fuel distribution network in NZ will be in place by late next year, aimed initially at heavy vehicles.

Ballance will offset 12,500 tonnes a year of carbon emissions using the process, the equivalent to 2600 fewer cars on the road.

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