Developer Total Eren is sizing up the potential for a 1-gigawatt green hydrogen project in Australia’s Northern Territory (NT), taking the total capacity of green hydrogen projects under development in the state to 13.8 GW.

A Memorandum of Understanding, signed between Total Eren and the NT state government on Monday, will see the two work together to progress the project, dubbed the Darwin H2 Hub.

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Plans for the scheme comprise more than 2 GW of solar PV generation, which will power a 1 GW electrolyser. The project aims to produce 80,000 tonnes per annum of hydrogen, equivalent to about 4% of the 1.96 million tonnes of green hydrogen South Korea expects to import from overseas by 2030.

However, an MoU is by no means a commitment to develop the project, so progress could be many years off.

“Our plan is to accelerate the development of the project to supply green hydrogen and also the opportunity to provide renewable energy which supports the decarbonisation plans for energy-intensive industries in the Territory,” Total Eren Australia’s managing director Kam Ho said.

Total Eren is 30% minority owned by French oil giant TotalEnergies, which recently said it was poised to make a major play into green hydrogen — but only outside Europe.

The Darwin H2 hub takes the total number of green hydrogen projects under development in the NT to three, alongside the 2.8 GW Tiwi project, and the giant 10 GW Desert Bloom scheme, which was in December granted major project status by the regional government, giving it access to a streamlined planning process and other support.

The Darwin H2 hub project could grab a slice of the NT government’s fund for accelerated hydrogen industry development — although at A$5.01 million (US$3.52 million) over four years the pot is unlikely to make a significant difference to a project this size.

Eye on exports

Nevertheless the NT government is keen to flog locally made green hydrogen abroad, targeting an “export-scale renewable hydrogen industry” by 2035.

And it has already identified several potential offtakers in locations including Singapore, Japan, South Korea, mainland China, Taiwan and Germany.

“With our abundant solar resources and our strategic location to support exports into the Indo-Pacific, the production of green hydrogen is a key opportunity for the Territory to address the growing demand for this green energy globally,” NT’s Chief Minister Natasha Fyles said on Monday.

Overall, the state wants to capture 15% of Australia’s green hydrogen export market — equal to its share of the liquefied natural gas export market. The state plays host to two LNG export projects and is also developing a carbon capture and storage (CCS) hub in Darwin.

But the NT projects will have to compete with several other Australian gigawatt-scale green hydrogen projects that also have an eye on exports to Asia, including Western Australia’s 28 GW Western Green Energy Hub, 14 GW Asian Renewable Energy Hub, 8 GW HyEnergy Zero Carbon Hydrogen and 5 GW Murchison Renewable Hydrogen Project, and Queensland’s 3.6 GW Pacific Solar Hydrogen and 3 GW H2-Hub Gladstone projects.

All the NT projects envisage power from solar PV — and the state’s Renewable Hydrogen Masterplan, published in October, acknowledges that its hydrogen plans could benefit from the development of NT’s wind power resources alongside solar to optimise the economics of electrolyser operation.

The concurrent use of wind and solar power can increase the utilisation rate of an electrolyser, as wind power often picks up at night when solar PV stops generating, improving the lifetime economics of green hydrogen production.

At present NT has no commercial wind farms in operation, despite wind speeds of up to 8.5 metres per second in some areas of the state.

This gap could present an opportunity for future wind-to-hydrogen developments by Total Eren, which in April unveiled plans for a massive 10 GW wind project to power green hydrogen and ammonia production in Chile.

(This story was first published on Upstream’s sister renewable energy publication, Recharge, on 17 August 2022.)