Plans to recycle the Muswellbrook coal mine in the New South Wales Upper Hunter region have grown from a pumped-up hydropower project to an area of renewable energy, potentially adding solar energy, battery storage and green hydrogen to the mix at Australia’s oldest open pit mine. .
The owner of the soon-to-be-closed mine, the Australian arm of Japanese company Idemitsu, unveiled this week a master plan for the Muswellbrook site, which will see it transformed into an industrial hub with a total of four renewable energy projects and related training facilities.
The expanded plans for what has been dubbed the Muswellbrook Energy, Training and Industry Precinct (METIP) are based on the Bells Mountains pumped hydropower storage project, which Idemitsu has developed with AGL Energy.
Bells Mountain, as reported by RenewEconomy, proposes to develop a 250MW pumped hydropower plant with eight hours of storage in a closed space on the site of the former Muswellbrook Coal Company. It is currently in the final stages of feasibility studies.
On top of that, Idemitsu says it is now also exploring the possibility of installing a large-scale, 150 to 200 MW solar cell PV and associated battery project, as well as a green hydrogen production plant, refueling plant and associated infrastructure, which it hopes to develop in partnership with Energy Estate.
The renewable hydrogen part of the scheme falls in line with the federal government’s designation of the hunter as a hydrogen hub, which has been backed by funding. Idemitsu is also hoping for state aid, as the proposed project is located in the NSW Hunter and Central Coast Renewable Energy Zone.
Energy State Director of Energy Growth Simone O’Sullivan said the hydrogen part of the plan was still in the very early stages, with a grid study underway, as well as early feasibility work to determine the best location and size of the proposed electrolysers.
O’Sullivan told RenewEconomy that the focus was on establishing the plant – which would produce 100% renewable hydrogen – on a commercial scale right from the start, ideally with state aid.
“We’re really focused on getting commercial returns from this, and state aid will be pretty important in making that happen,” she said, noting that the project has so far ticked all the boxes for federal support through the Hydrogen Hub scheme .
Idemitsu Australia CEO Steve Kovac said the METIP project represented once in a generation the opportunity to stimulate economic growth and provide jobs to the local community following the closure of a coal mine, which will end its life in mid-2022.
“Muswellbrook Energy, Training and Industry Precinct is an important development project for the region and will have significant social and economic benefits for the local community.” said Kovac.
“We have a long-standing commitment to the Muswellbrook community that is deeply important to us,” he added. “At Idemitsu, we want to do what we can to turn an otherwise empty pit into an exciting new project that provides jobs and further diversifies our portfolio as a company.”
At this stage, the Bells Mountain Scheme is the most advanced project on site and will see the 1.5 million tonne annual coal mine converted into a 250MW pumped hydropower project by 2027.
The plan is to pump water 2,000 feet from the existing mine cavity to be stored in a 1.9 gigalitre reservoir atop Bells Mountain.
Using gravity, the water would flow from the reservoir through pipes to drive a turbine at the base, providing a total of 2,000 MWh of stored energy to be fed into existing high-voltage power lines nearby.