Iron ore billionaire Andrew Forrest has unveiled plans to build a massive green energy production center in central Queensland that will initially focus on hydrogen electrolysers before also moving on to wind turbine equipment, solar cells and electric cables.
The announcement – made by Fortescue Future Industries and the state government in Queensland on Sunday – pushes Australia into the new era of green industry and energy production centers, and it is no coincidence that it will be located around Gladstone, the hub of state coal and LNG industries.
Forrest’s plans are – as usual – extremely ambitious. The six-stage project starts with a plan to establish Australia’s first multi-gigawatt scale electrolyser plant with a starting capacity of 2 gigawatts (GW) per year – more than doubling current global production.
This will provide hundreds of jobs in both construction and over the life of the project, but thousands more could be created as the center expands to manufacture wind turbines, solar cells and other infrastructure, helping to transform regional Australia through green industries.
“FFI’s goal is to become the world’s leading, integrated, fully renewable energy and green products company, driving the Australian economy and creating jobs for Australia as we move away from fossil fuels,” CEO Julie Shuttleworth said in a statement.
“Our production arm, which starts with electrolysers and expands to all other necessary green industrial products, will herald a great potential for green production and employment in regional Australia.”
The massive and groundbreaking investment from one of Australia’s richest people stands in stark contrast to the anti-green industry and anti-renewable rhetoric of federal citizens, especially those in Queensland who only seem interested in protecting the coal industry.
But there is a major change that washes Australia’s boardrooms, where even the Business Council of Australia is returning from its claims that an ambitious climate target would ‘ruin the economy’, to now propose a 50 per cent reduction in 2030 so Australia does not being left to the rest of the world.
FFI’s Shuttleworth said she expected Gladstone to become an epicenter of Queensland’s green hydrogen ambitions, building on its skilled workforce, “its great foresight in industrial master planning, a world-class port and a constructive and supportive state government.”
Subject to customer demand, the total investment may be up to or above USD 1 billion as an ordering company for electrolysers and other green industrial equipment. The first electrolysis investment is expected to be up to DKK 114 million. AU, with the first electrolysers scheduled for production in early 2023.
FFI will itself be the largest initial customer, presumably to start its own hugely ambitious green hydrogen plans. Forrest has stated that he wants to build more than 100 GW of renewable hydrogen capacity by 2030. He says the global renewable hydrogen market could be worth $ 16 trillion by 2050.
“As GEM (Green Energy Manufacturing Center) develops according to FFI’s own requirements and the needs of other customers, manufacturing will roar back to regional Australia and create many thousands of jobs,” Forrest said in a statement.
“Fortescue is once again at the forefront … this initiative is a critical step in Fortescue’s transition from a highly successful pure ore producer to an even more successful green renewable energy source and resource.”
Queensland Prime Minister Annastacia Palaszczuk said Gladstone would become a world-leading hub for the production of electrolysers – crucial for the production of renewable hydrogen.
“We are seeing a growing global interest in renewable hydrogen,” she said. “We do not just want to export our resources – we also want to develop a manufacturing industry that can also make the electrolysers in Queensland.
Treasurer and Minister of Trade and Investment Cameron Dick said the development of a renewable hydrogen industry was a crucial next step in maintaining Queensland’s dominance as a global energy powerhouse.
“FFI could have built this facility anywhere in Australia. The fact that they chose Queensland says a lot about our state’s advanced plan to use our sun, wind and water to create new jobs and new businesses in the Queensland region, ”he said.
“We are taking advantage of the momentum in the massive revolution that is underway in global energy production, and we are doing it for the benefit of all Queenslanders.
Energy, Renewable Energy and Hydrogen Minister Mick de Brenni said producing hydrogen and the equipment needed to produce it would mean Queensland would export its renewable energy as well as its technological know-how.
“The world is decarbonising fast, and it offers new opportunities for more jobs here in Queensland,” de Brenni said. “Onshoring manufacturing of hydrogen industry components means lasting benefits for Queenslanders all the way through the value chain as part of the global industrial transformation.”
Australia has suffered in the way of manufacturing for the hydrogen or wind and solar industries. Some plants – both established and planned – were canceled when the Howard government abolished the then renewable energy target in 2006, although some basic collection and wind turbine production occur.
Forrest’s announcement follows news on Friday that FFI had acquired a majority stake in the Dutch photovoltaic plant and hydrogen technology company HyET with a view to setting up a 1GW production plant in Australia.
HyET boasts a new ultra light and flexible solar technology, which it says can deliver a significant cost reduction because it will eliminate the need for much of the supporting infrastructure.
Simon Currie, director of Energy Estate, which develops more than 3GW of renewable and storage projects in the region, in a joint venture with RES, says he is excited about this announcement.
“The Queensland Government has shown the world how to gracefully and practically support the energy transition through a focus on training and capacity building,” he said in a statement.
Giles Parkinson is the founder and editor of Renew Economy, and is also the founder of One Step Off The Grid and the founder / editor of EV-focused The Driven. Giles has been a journalist for 40 years and is a former company and Deputy Director of the Australian Financial Review.