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4 February 2021 Speech

I would like to begin by acknowledging the Cammeraigal and Borogegal peoples as the Traditional Owners of the land I’m speaking from today, and pay my respect to their Elders past, present and emerging.

Thank you for that introduction and thank you to Bronwyn Fox for the invitation to speak with you all this evening, albeit virtually. It is an honour to address some of Australia’s brightest minds and innovators, and I am humbled to be given the opportunity.

As we embark together on a new year, still wearing the scars of 2020, it is tempting to start talking about life after COVID-19. A ‘post-COVID era.’

But like climate change, we know we will be living with coronavirus. We have to adapt.

We have to adapt the way we live and work; adapt our industries to new global trends; and adapt our approach to biological threats and infectious disease. 

But it’s not coronavirus that I want to talk about this evening – it’s adaptation. Adaptation driven by disruption, and evolution. 

And I want to pose a question to you – are Australians stuck in the rut of only innovating after we are disrupted, or can we evolve to innovate all the time?

After 25 years of commercialising science and technology in Silicon Valley, I can assure you, disruption happens whether you like it or not. Your only choice is to be the disrupted, or the disruptor. 

Continuing to do what you have always done will only send you backwards. 

My son turned 18 last weekend. I told him that in the year he was born, I had $10,000 I could have put in the bank for him, but today it would be worth only $7,600.

I could have bought a car for him, but today it would be worthless, or I could have bought shares in the Google IPO - which today are worth $290,000. 

Today change is exponential, and that means that standing still is exponentially falling behind.

The World Economic Forum cites the top three global risks by impact today as infectious disease, climate action failure, and weapons of mass destruction.

Australia has outperformed in managing a pandemic – can this give us the confidence to take a leadership position on climate?

It’s interesting to see – in absolute terms – how we stack up against the rest of the world on our emissions. 

Between 1990, which was the first reference year for the Kyoto Protocol, and 2019, carbon emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels tripled in China.

Emissions from the US showed no change, the EU declined by 25 percent, and Australia’s carbon emissions from fossil fuels grew by 45 percent. I note that these figures don’t include emissions from other sectors such as agriculture and land use, which are a bit trickier to compare.

Emissions from fossil fuels declined in 2020 for all countries except China, which showed a modest growth.

As you can see, there is an immense opportunity to use science and technology to do more, both in Australia and around the world. 

In the past few years, we’ve done more to attack climate change with innovation than ever before, and I’ll come back to that in a moment. 

We have some big questions to answer as a country, and as a civilisation, as we attempt to reduce our emissions, adapt to changes in our climate that are already occurring, and mitigate the impacts on our economy, our lives, and our lifestyles.

How can we decarbonise our economy and still have growth?

How can we make industry and environment partners, instead of competitors?

In fact, how do we make sustainability profitable?

Science exists to solve seemingly impossible problems, and it is making rapid progress on these questions today.

So this evening, I want to talk to you about how Team Australia is using science to adapt to climate change, to disrupt emissions intensive industries, and to evolve our economy for a decarbonised future.

As a critical part of this, I’ll talk about how we are supporting the emergence of a new clean hydrogen industry for Australia, which based on the National Hydrogen Strategy will create an estimated 8,000 jobs and $11 billion a year in GDP, and result in avoided greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to a third of Australia’s current fossil fuel emissions by 2050. 

Hydrogen technology is also a cornerstone of the Government’s Low Emissions Technology Statement, or LETS, which aims to support 130,000 jobs in next generation energy technologies by 2030 and avoid a whopping 250 million tonnes of emissions in Australia by 2040.


Adapting to climate change

But first, let me start with climate. Climate change is a contested and confused space where ideology and rhetoric often overcome reality. 

But no matter what you believe about climate change, it has become a global market shift, one that could hurt our economy if we don’t respond.

Massive market shifts like the deregulation of telecommunications, the adoption of optical fibre communications, and the birth of the integrated circuit caused great fortunes to be made and lost. I’d argue it’s more productive to treat climate as market, rather than as ideology.
If we were talking about it as a market shift and not as ideology – then we’d stop arguing that solar and wind can solve our all our energy problems.

We’d recognise that we need a mixture of options which, apart from the obvious need for storage, include new low carbon fuels such as hydrogen for heating, in particular industrial heating, as well as for heavy transport options. 

If you’ve ever been camping and tried to boil water using your car battery, you’ll know it’s a long wait and a good way to flatten your battery. Chemical energy can be transferred in massive amounts much faster than electricity can, as well as be stored – so not all our energy needs are solved by electricity, solar or wind. 
We need fuels, and at the moment our best bet for lower emissions is LNG over coal, but we need to reinvent fuels if we are to adapt to the global market shift driven by climate change, and take advantage.

As a 100-year-old organisation, CSIRO has some experience in reinvention. We made profound changes to our organisation in 2016 when we shifted from measuring and modelling climate change to mitigating and adapting to it. 

Because even in our absolute best-case estimates of emissions reduction, Australia will be living with the current impacts of climate change throughout this century.

So, we must adapt now, while we wait for mitigation to work.

CSIRO’s enduring purpose is to solve the greatest challenges with innovative science and technology, and we have been working on the challenge of adapting to a changing climate for some time. 

For example, we have re-engineered crops so that rather than their yields dropping by 30 percent from climate change, they are actually stable or even improving.

We invented FutureFeed, a seaweed-based feedstock that reduces methane emissions from cattle by more than 80 percent.

We figured out how to make a plant taste as good as Angus beefsteak to catalyse what we believe will be a $10 billion alternative protein industry to feed a growing global population.

We’ve reinvented farming with precision agriculture, like this WaterWise sensor to monitor soil, weather and plant conditions so that plants can order their own drinks. 

And we’re working on an initiative to give Australian business leaders clear, actionable advice to help them assess climate risk, and plan for transition and adaptation. 

These wins are by no means low hanging fruit, and they will have impact, but to really turn things around we need to take aim at decarbonising the big emitters – our energy, transport and industrial sectors.

To help us achieve this, we have been looking at the universe’s most abundant element – hydrogen. 

Hydrogen in a very real sense is the basis of all energy, because it powers our sun.

And just like FutureFeed solving the impossible task of eliminating the emissions but not the profits from cattle, we think hydrogen can give us all the advantages of fuels, but with no emissions.


The next big opportunity – hydrogen 

We think the next big opportunity, as does the Federal Government, for decarbonisation in Australia will be hydrogen fuel – as a zero-emissions energy carrier produced using renewable sources. 

Australia is blessed with vast energy resources, many of them renewable, but some of our biggest trading partners are not so fortunate. They are grappling with how to transition from a reliance on fossil-fuel imports to lower-emissions alternatives. 

This is where science can unlock a seemingly impossible challenge, because hydrogen could both fill the gap in our export dollars and help the world, and us, navigate the energy market transition.

Australia can become a renewable energy superpower through the production and export of hydrogen, but it isn’t easy to invent a new industry around an existing one. 

The past 18 months have seen unprecedented support for hydrogen, and with good reason. It has a role to play across transport, power, and industrial sectors, and is experiencing increasing domestic and international demand – especially when made from renewable energy.

But hydrogen requires a fundamental paradigm shift – and we know that paradigm shifts are often the undoing of new technology. 

We’ve made hydrogen from gas and coal for industrial processes for a hundred years, but the hydrogen industry for renewables – where hydrogen is made from renewable and low-carbon energy and shipped around the world – is in its infancy. 

This is where science, as the great former Australian Prime Minister Billy Hughes said, “can lend a most powerful aid.”

Science breaking though roadblocks

Another big change we made to CSIRO in 2016 was to focus our science on breaking through a roadblock that was stopping hydrogen from becoming an easily adopted, renewable fuel. 

We pioneered work in developing a membrane that can be used to separate hydrogen from ammonia for powering hydrogen vehicles.

Using our patented hydrogen cracker, we have made ammonia the equivalent of a liquid renewable fuel for producing hydrogen, that means you can refuel your car with hydrogen just as quickly as you do at the petrol pump today.

No paradigm shift needed – we can transport ammonia using existing liquid fuel infrastructure, extracting the hydrogen on the spot with a membrane. 

We then signed a $20 million dollar deal with Fortescue to commercialise this research, opening the road to use existing liquid fuel infrastructure to fuel hydrogen vehicles.

And in 2018, a small CSIRO pilot plant in Queensland refueled Toyota and Hyundai cars using hydrogen sourced from ammonia for the first time in Australia.

Since then, costs have started to come down, technologies have matured, and global economies like Japan and South Korea are showing interest.

Australian consumers might not be lining up to buy hydrogen powered cars just yet, but there are immediate opportunities in our industrial sectors that could unlock a broader hydrogen industry for everyone.


Decarbonising industry 

Some of the world’s most carbon-intensive industries – from steelmaking to petrochemicals and international maritime industries – could achieve significant decarbonisation with hydrogen over the next decade.

In Australia, low emissions hydrogen has the potential to transform the ammonia industry, steel production and petrochemicals, and when blended with natural gas in pipelines, reduce CO2 emissions from many other industrial heating applications.

Hydrogen can also provide clean power for our trucks, trains, and even ships. 

Imagine the difference we could make if we focused on a single major transport industry, like shipping or trucks, and transformed that into a carbon-neutral industry through hydrogen? 

Actually don’t imagine – Australia’s total transport emissions, including non-commercial car travel, make up 18 per cent of our total emissions.

Hydrogen will also start to be blended into our natural gas, up to 15 percent, and then ultimately replace natural gas in our networks in this decade, which will remain critical to the stability of our energy supply as we add more renewables to the mix.


CSIRO’s National Hydrogen Roadmap

We have a unique Australian opportunity when it comes to hydrogen – we have the natural gas to create initial hydrogen supply; an abundance of renewable energy sources; a fast-changing electricity sector for which hydrogen can support and stabilise the renewable energy transition; a skilled workforce; and the potential for locally produced hydrogen to increase fuel security by diversifying our fuel mix.  

We can even export Australian sunshine if we use solar power to split hydrogen out from water or ammonia and send it around the world, leveraging our existing energy resource export partnerships.

This could be a uniquely Australian product and a high-value new industry, which reduces the emissions but not the profits from a key pillar of our economy. 

As Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO is partnering with government and industry to help realise this opportunity for Australia, and support the creation of a new clean hydrogen industry that could help us grow our way out of recession.

In 2018, we released the National Hydrogen Roadmap, which laid out a blueprint for an economically sustainable hydrogen industry in Australia.

A year later, we released the Hydrogen Research, Development and Demonstration, or 'RD&D' Report, which highlighted the critical supporting role of these elements across five active hydrogen opportunities areas: hydrogen export, and the integration of hydrogen into gas networks, transport systems, electricity systems, and industrial processes.

The report looked at the commercial readiness of different industrial applications for hydrogen based on current and potential costs of production in Australia. It found that many industrial applications, like hydrogen-fuelled transport, are already in reach

Market activation is the key we now need to turn to unlock industry development, and begin to scale-up.


It takes an ecosystem 

I say 'we', because innovation is a team sport, and we will only achieve change and impact at scale if we operate as Team Australia. 

While initiated by CSIRO, the Hydrogen Roadmap was not produced by us alone. It was supported by more than 20 organisations representing government, research as well as local and global industry.

It set the scene for conversations which led to the development of Australia’s National Hydrogen Strategy, which was developed in parallel with our RD&D Report.

The National Hydrogen Strategy was adopted by all federal, state and territory governments in 2019, signalling an unprecedented national determination to establish a commercially viable Australian clean hydrogen industry by 2030 – and I believe we will achieve this. 

In September last year, and supported by CSIRO, hydrogen technologies were identified as one of the five priorities of the Government’s LETS statement.

Significant funding was awarded to ARENA and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to finance technology development in the clean energy sector. 

This, together with the adoption of a national strategy, has led to numerous demonstration projects across multiple states. 

The aim of these demonstration projects is to de-risk hydrogen technology deployment in Australia through industry-led examples of applications in areas including transport, natural gas replacement in domestic and industrial heating, hydrogen as a feedstock for industrial processes, and hydrogen export value chain development. 

In Western Australia, the ATCO’s Clean Energy Innovation Hub is turning excess renewable energy into hydrogen, which is then stored and either injected into the natural gas grid or used to power a 'hybrid modular home' demonstration.

In South Australia, the Port Lincoln hydrogen and ammonia supply chain demonstrator shows the adoption of green hydrogen from intermittent renewable resources across multiple value chains. It supplies green ammonia to the local agriculture and industrial sectors, while also supplying power to the grid through hydrogen-fired gas turbines when there is low sun and wind. 

In Victoria, the hydrogen energy supply chain project is a world-first pilot of a liquefied hydrogen export supply chain to Japan based on brown coal gasification, which utilises carbon capture and storage to produce clean hydrogen.

And last year, CSIRO also released a roadmap in partnership with Boeing to chart a course towards a hydrogen-fuelled aviation industry, with the first hydrogen jobs to be created within five years. 

As you can see, Australia has a strong RD&D ecosystem which has already mobilised to support a transition to hydrogen. 

These examples use existing infrastructure to pilot a range of different hydrogen solutions – from storage and transport to steel production and rocket propulsion – at relatively low cost. 


CSIRO’s role 

At CSIRO, we see ourselves as a connector between research and industry, helping to take inventions from the lab, like our hydrogen cracker, and working with industry partners like Fortescue to turn them into commercial success stories that can catalyse a whole new industry.

We are collaborating with a range of partners including the Australian and Victorian governments, Origin, Woodside, BHP, and AERNA to develop a path for hydrogen in Australia, as well as on a range of specific projects with partners like Toyota, Hyundai and of course Fortescue.

Our goal is to fast-track the deployment of emerging hydrogen technologies, providing the means and support for industry to undertake the technical work needed to help them transition to a low-emissions future.

So, what’s the next step? What are we working on today to drive this industry forward?


In August of last year, CSIRO and our partners announced a program of missions to help fuel Australia’s economic recovery and build resilience to future challenges.

The missions operationalise the six great challenges we face as a nation – our health and wellbeing, our food security and quality, our national security, the resilience of our environment, the sustainability of our energy and resources, and the future of our industries.

Hydrogen cuts across a few of those challenges and is a key technology enabler to a more prosperous and sustainable future for Australia, so it was named as one of the 12 missions where we, together with our partners, will focus our collective knowledge and resources to achieve breakthrough science.

Missions, by their nature, have ambitious and far-reaching goals that are much larger than any one organisation. So, we are forming broad coalitions of multidisciplinary partners behind each one, which in addition to hydrogen, tackle formidable problems like antimicrobial resistance, transforming plastic waste, reducing the impact of drought, and helping business to navigate climate change uncertainty.

Hydrogen Industry Mission 

Building on our existing research and connections with industry and government, the Hydrogen Industry Mission aims to support the growth of this new industry for Australia by delivering RD&D partnerships which help to turn that key to activate markets.

The mission also aims to bring the cost of hydrogen production down in line with alternative energy sources, and we are working to meet the Government’s stretch goal of 'H2 under 2' production cost. In other words, clean hydrogen at less than $2 Australian dollars per kilogram.

Achieving this will depend on technology investment, but critically, it will require the scale-up in both supply and demand to realise economies of scale and manufacturing efficiencies. 

Together with our partners, we are investing and building coalitions across four areas of activity – and they are beginning to gain momentum. 

The first is a Hydrogen Knowledge Centre to capture and promote hydrogen projects and industry developments across Australia. The first module of the Knowledge Centre – HyResource – was launched in September last year with our partners at NERA, the Future Fuels CRC and The Australian Hydrogen Council. 

The second is Feasibility and Strategy studies to deliver trusted advice to government, industry and the community. This builds on earlier work including the Hydrogen Roadmap, and late last year, we delivered the hydrogen cost modelling input and barrier analysis which helped underpin the Government’s “H2 under 2” stretch goal.

The third is to support Demonstration Projects that validate hydrogen value chains and de-risk enabling technologies. To do this, we are establishing a new facility at our site in Clayton where we will work with partners to develop, integrate and evaluate new hydrogen technologies to accelerate their commercial deployment.

We also plan to install a hydrogen vehicle refueller station, as part of our VH2 partnership with Swinburne University – and I thank Bronwyn Fox, Deputy VC at Swinburne, for all of the incredible work she and her team are doing in this space. You can expect a significant announcement of a new partnership in this space very soon.
The last area is Enabling Science and Technology, which encompasses a CSIRO Future Science Platform – where we do breakthrough science – and our $20 million dollar partnership with Fortescue.  

Fortescue has been a tremendous partner to us in this and real trailblazer for industry. Its Chairman, Andrew Forrest, was in the news last week unveiling global ambitions to develop massive renewable power resources to produce green hydrogen. 

In his eyes, Fortescue would become a 'first mover' on green hydrogen and other green products including steel, and become one of the world’s largest green energy and product businesses.

But more than that, Fortescue is becoming a major contributor to climate innovation, and we are fortunate to call them our partner in that innovation.

Together with Fortescue, we are co-developing this Hydrogen Industry Mission with partners including Boeing, Hyundai and Toyota, and we’re seeking other partners to join us.

There is an incredible depth of knowledge and experience in the people in this room today. If you feel like you can contribute to this mission, or any of our other missions, please do get in touch. There are contact details for each of the mission leads on our website.


I want to come back to adaptation now, and how a disruption on an unimaginable scale like climate change must drive us to evolve our industries.

We won’t secure our future by continuing to do things the way we did before, and the future is unlikely to be created by the same men in blue suits who gave us the past.

We need to adapt, but needn’t suffer for it.

We can decarbonise our economy and still have growth.

We can make industry and environment partners. 

We can make sustainability profitable.

Low emissions is now a global market shift that every business and every economy needs to ride. 

This is a tremendous opportunity for Australia. We have the resources, the skills and the support of government to create a thriving domestic and export hydrogen industry that can transform our economy.

With continued supportive government policy, industry investment and research efforts, I have every confidence we will break the “H2 under 2” barrier and unleash a wave of innovation.

I hope to one day see my kids refuelling their cars at the petrol pump with hydrogen, or sharing in the wealth and 8,000 jobs a hydrogen industry will create for Australians.

We can make this a reality, and we can do it in this decade, if we act as Team Australia to ignite this industry.

Thank you for your attention. Enjoy your dinner, and all the best for the year ahead. 



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