Hydrogen on the horizon?

    The Tiwai Point Aluminium Smelter site has been mooted as one of the prospective locations for a proposed Southern Green Hydrogen project. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery

    MULTINATIONAL companies are knocking at the door to become involved in the proposed Southern Green Hydrogen project earmarked for Invercargill.

    Meridian Energy and Contact Energy called for registrations of interest in July, after a McKinsey & Co report revealed a plant had the potential to earn hundreds of millions of dollars in export revenue and help de-carbonise societies in New Zealand and overseas.

    Earlier this week, it was announced 80 registrations of interest had been received.

    The Tiwai Point Aluminium Smelter site, near Bluff, has been mooted as one of the prospective locations, if it closes down at the end of 2024.

    However, Meridian general manager development Guy Waipara said several locations around Invercargill and Bluff were of “most interest” for the plant.

    Meridian general manager development Guy Waipara

    A decision on where the plant would be located would not be made until the end product was finalised, he said.

    Three products were being investigated liquid hydrogen, ammonia and green iron.

    “Those different products have got preferences to be closer to or further away from port, for example, so as we kind of narrow down what the best partnership option is and what the best product is, then that will come out in the wash really.”

    Of the 80 registrations of interest, most were from international parties in Asia, Europe and Australia, with some acknowledging a desire to invest in the project.

    Southland Chamber of  Commerce chief executive Sheree Carey

    “Of the slightly over 50 international responses, a number of them are interested in the domestic market as well as the international market.

    “We’ve got the companies that we really wanted to have an attempt, we’ve got an attempt, so we’re really pleased about that.”

    Mr Waipara said he was impressed with the quality of responses from multinational companies, with representatives from the mining, chemical and petrochemical sectors all in the mix.

    A large number of responses were also received from engineering and technology companies interested in developing the infrastructure needed to produce and transport hydrogen from Southland.

    The future of hydrogen would have a massive impact globally as it was difficult to decarbonise industry at present, he said.

    “If you look at shipping and large transport, there’s really no alternative and there’s a lot of industrial processes like steel making and aluminium manufacture that currently use carbon and if you’re going to decarbonise those, then all roads lead to hydrogen again.”

    With little global green hydrogen large-scale development, New Zealand was on the cusp of something quite revolutionary, he said.

    Southland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Sheree Carey said the organisation had been pushing for many years for diversity of industry in Southland.

    “Any kind of diversity, that new industry can bring to the region is positive.

    “With employment, with different skills and workers, with diversity comes change.”

    She said the flow-on effect of a new sector would bring growth and opportunity to the south.

    Recent talks she had with Meridian conveyed they were really positive about the proposal.

    “There are some really big players in there,” she said.

    “It’s not just people kicking their tyres, it’s really serious.”

    The next phase of the project was a series of more formal discussions with shortlisted parties, followed by a request for proposal process to determine key partners and build the wider supply chain and end-use customers.

    The process, which is already under way, is expected to be completed by March 2022.