The green energy arm of iron ore giant Fortescue Metals Group is looking to develop, what it claims will be, one of the world’s largest hydrogen manufacturing hubs near the liquefied natural gas export epicentre of Gladstone, Queensland.

Fortescue Future Industries (FFI) revealed plans over the weekend for its proposed Global Green Energy Manufacturing Centre (GEM), which will manufacture wind turbines, long-range electric cabling, solar photovoltaic cells, electrolysers and associated infrastructure.

The first stage of the six-stage project will also look to establish Australia’s first multi-gigawatt-scale electrolyser factory, with an initial capacity of 2 gigawatts.

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Initial investment in the hub will be up to A$114 million (US$83.5 million), however, FFI believes total investment could “be up to or in excess of” A$1 billion for electrolysers and other green industry equipment, subject to demand.

FFI will underwrite the GEM’s initial growth through its own requirements, with the company's chairman Andrew Forrest recently revealing the company is targeting 15 million tonnes of green hydrogen supply by 2030.

“FFI’s goal is to become the world’s leading, integrated, fully renewable energy and green products company, powering the Australian economy and creating jobs for Australia as we transition away from fossil fuels,” said FFI chief executive Julie Shuttleworth.

“Our manufacturing arm, starting with electrolysers and expanding to all other required green industry products, will herald great potential for green manufacturing and employment in regional Australia.”

Subject to final approvals, FFI anticipates construction of the GEM to start in February next year, with the first electrolyser scheduled for production in early 2022.

Government partnership

The hub will be created in partnership with the Queensland government, which claims the initial stage will create 120 construction jobs and 53 operational jobs, with more than 300 jobs anticipated over the life of the project.

“As GEM develops according to FFI’s own requirements and other customer needs, manufacturing will come roaring back to regional Australia, creating many thousands of jobs,” Forrest said on Sunday.

“Fortescue is again ahead of the curve and we are immensely proud to be pioneering a Global Green Energy Manufacturing Centre in Gladstone. This initiative is a critical step in Fortescue’s transition from a highly successful pure play iron ore producer, to an even more successful green renewables and resources powerhouse.”

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk added that as global interest in clean hydrogen increases, she did not want her state to be seen only as an export hub, but also a manufacturing hub.

“Andrew Forrest and I both see Queensland’s great potential as a renewables exporter and manufacturer of hydrogen equipment,” she said.

“This partnership will create local jobs, support our economic recovery and create an advanced manufacturing industry in Gladstone that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the country.”

Gladstone is already known as a major energy export hub, with three large LNG export facilities located nearby on Curtis Island, with 23 million tonnes of LNG shipped from Gladstone in the last Australian financial year, which ended 30 June.

Queensland’s Minister for Regional Development and Manufacturing, Glenn Butcher, claims Gladstone is now also building itself up as “the Australian capital of the rapidly developing hydrogen industry”.

“This is another huge vote of confidence in Gladstone’s ability grow new industries and export the products to the world,” Butcher said.

“We’ve already seen it with the LNG industry and the growing renewable hydrogen industry will further enhance Gladstone’s – and the region’s – reputation.”

Green ambition: Australian mining magnate Andrew 'Twiggy' Forrest wants a quarter of the world's energy needs to be met by green hydrogen by 2050 Photo: AFP/SCANPIX

Lobbying against blue

The announcement of the GEM comes just weeks after Forrest launched a global green hydrogen organisiation, GH2, which is also chaired by former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.

GH2 has set the goal of ensuring a quarter of the world’s energy comes from green hydrogen by 2050.

As Forrest ramps up promotion for his green hydrogen ambitions and business ventures, he has also been a vocal critic of blue hydrogen on the global stage.

Just last week he slammed the use of public funding for blue hydrogen at the Reuters Impact climate conference.

“Blue hydrogen is not ‘clean’ and, tragically, most governments – without a scintilla of science – are throwing tens of billions of dollars in subsidies at it,” he said.

“The truth is that the fossil fuel industry has lobbied hard and you will see a spectacular example of this at COP26, to get taxpayers to fund their attempt at a transition to ‘clean’ energy – on their timetable.”

Forrest has also pointed to a study by researchers at Cornell and Stanford universities earlier this year that claimed blue hydrogen could be worse for the environment than just burning natural gas.

However, industry players such as Equinor, which is developing both blue and green hydrogen projects, have hit out at the study, claiming the researchers made incorrect assumptions , which led to incorrect conclusions.

Green vs Blue

Blue hydrogen is produced from natural gas feedstocks, with the carbon dioxide by-product from hydrogen production captured and stored. However, the process is not emissions free.

Green hydrogen is made using electrolysis powered by renewable energy to split water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen, creating an emissions-free fuel.