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26 May 2021 Speech

I would like to begin by acknowledging the Gadigal people of the Eora nation as the Traditional Owners of the land that we are on today, and pay my respect to their Elders past, present, and emerging.

Good afternoon.

Thank you to the Australian Hydrogen Council for bringing us all together today.

My optimism for Australia’s opportunity for hydrogen is high – the industry and jobs it will create, and the clean energy future it will enable.

And CSIRO’s vision for Australia’s future hydrogen industry is clear – bringing together research, industry and commercialisation in a true Team Australia approach to place our nation in a position of leadership for this new export market.

There’s no doubt that hydrogen excites me. But like any deep-science-driven technology, it can be a long stretch between milestones.

For me, the hydrogen journey started in 1985 when I made a blue laser from hydrogen, and then later when I made the green laser.

Thirty-five years later and today we’re looking at blue and green energy, and it’s been three decades of ups and downs in between.

Fortunately, over those three decades we haven’t hit any big ‘red light’ STOP moments, but red lights aren’t always a bad thing.

This is a model our team made for me to show the hydrogen cracker technology that turns gaseous hydrogen into liquid ammonia, and back again.

The membrane separates ultra-high purity hydrogen from ammonia, while blocking all other gases.

It links hydrogen production, distribution and delivery in the form of a modular unit that can be used at, or near, a refuelling station.

For me, the red in this prop is the passion alive inside of all of the hydrogen advocates who have got us to this exciting point in the journey. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The next critical moment for me in hydrogen was a conversation I had in 2015 in Japan with then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe about the potential for a hydrogen industry.

He really convinced me there was a market to be had, and so we doubled then redoubled CSIRO’s investment in hydrogen fuel until we had our breakthrough hydrogen cracker – more on that shortly.

1985 might seem like a long time ago, but from those early endeavours we’ve come a long way. And today we’ve reached an exciting new milestone on the hydrogen journey.

A large, ambitious research and industry collaboration which Australia hasn’t seen before.

But before I talk more about that, I’d like to touch on some of the breakthroughs along the way.

In 2016 we focused on making the Hydrogen cracker a reality, and securing a commercial partner to drive it.

At the time, investment in hydrogen was not setting the world on fire, but we saw the opportunity and backed our research.

In 2017, we launched our Hydrogen Energy Systems Future Science Platform – a program to invest in the next generation of breakthrough technology and keep us at the international forefront of research.

In 2018, CSIRO launched a National Hydrogen Roadmap.

A year later in 2019, the tide began to turn, and global investment began to flow, but Australia already had the advantage.

The Roadmap charted a course towards a strong Australian hydrogen export industry, painting a vision of clean hydrogen extracted using solar power – so we could literally export Australian sunshine, one of our greatest national and natural advantages.

Our researchers also forecast that cost competitiveness was firmly on the horizon.

Before launching that roadmap in Melbourne in 2018, I’d been in Brisbane earlier in the month to test-drive the first cars to be fuelled by CSIRO’s new breakthrough in hydrogen fuel technology, the hot-red cracker I showed you earlier.

That invention makes it possible to fuel cars with liquid fuel and zero emissions, or with hydrogen gas.

The event was hosted by BOC and HMA – now the Australian Hydrogen Council, our hosts today –the cars were Hyundais and Toyotas, and we were all taking turns behind the wheel.

Having both the Roadmap and the technology in our hands that month was a turning point for a lot of Australian leaders who have been instrumental in getting a hydrogen industry to where we are today.

Later in 2018, Fortescue Metals Group and CSIRO announced a $20m partnership centred on commercialisation of the cracker membrane technology, which also saw us working together to identify, develop and commercialise other technologies as well.

The partnership with Fortescue was another important milestone. It validated the market interest and belief in what was possible when you transport hydrogen via ammonia.

It addressed one of our big questions around cost effective storage and distribution of hydrogen for use in vehicles, without the need to invest in new infrastructure, or consider shifting drivers’ existing behaviours.

As everyone in this room is acutely aware, changing social behaviours and attitudes is one of the biggest challenges in any innovation – but then along came a disruption that changed all of our behaviours.

In the middle of the pandemic, in August last year, CSIRO released a new hydrogen roadmap, this time for the aviation sector and in partnership with Boeing.

A path was mapped for clean hydrogen to significantly reduce aviation emissions with potential benefits seen within five years.

As airlines grappled with their grounding, it was also a moment for the aviation industry to catch its breath and decide how it would build back.

Food for thought from CSIRO was a proposal for hydrogen-powered ground support equipment by 2025; hydrogen to supplement conventional fuels in aircraft by 2035; and replace it completely by 2050.

Just a few months ago, CSIRO began developing our first hydrogen refuelling station under a partnership with Swinburne University and the Victorian Government as part of the Victorian Hydrogen Hub, or VH2.

And then last week we took delivery of our first Toyota Mirai, already the second generation of the same hydrogen-fuelled car I test-drove and test-fuelled with CSIRO’s membrane technology in Brisbane in 2018.

It will be the first car we experiment with in the Victoria refuelling station when it is commissioned next year.

While we’re working with our partners to build a physical refuelling station, the hub itself is also an intellectual refuelling station for the wide range of stakeholders required to build this industry, bringing together researchers, industry and businesses to test, trial and demonstrate new and emerging hydrogen technologies.

As COVID-19 spread around the world, and borders slammed shut, economies wobbled, we also saw a unique moment in time for science and innovation to drive our recovery.

There are moments that shape generations – the generation who harnessed electricity; the generation who saw humans walk on the Moon; the generation who switched on the internet.

Moments driven by science.

Science has the unique and wonderful ability to unite people around a mission to achieve things that were once thought impossible.

The 1969 Moon Mission galvanised the public, inspired rafts of other inventions we now use in our everyday lives, and achieved something no one thought possible when it was announced in 1961.

As CSIRO has grown over its 100 years, our purpose has never been clearer or more important: to solve Australia’s greatest challenges through innovative science and technology.

And so last year, looking to the future and our road to recovery, we announced a portfolio of missions to drive Australia’s return to prosperity.

Missions are large scale, complex research programs, directed at solving our greatest challenges, aimed at making significant breakthroughs, and focused on outcomes that lead to positive impact, new jobs and economic growth.

Importantly, while missions are far-reaching and ambitious, they have time-bound goals to focus partners and inspire the nation.

We announced twelve missions in development that would cover areas such as:

  • Increasing our resilience and preparedness against pandemics.
  • Mitigating the impact of disasters like drought, bushfires and floods.
  • Overcoming our growing resistance to antibiotics, so they keep saving lives.
  • Helping our farmers overcome drought, mitigate climate impacts, increase yield and profitability
  • Creating a sustainable Future Protein Industry to supplement the world’s diet and reduce our impact on the environment
  • And leveraging the world’s love of Australian-grown food to collectively drive our trusted agriculture and food exports to $100 billion.

A number of these missions will help address the impacts of climate change:

  • Like providing the science, technology and know-how to support our regions and governments to achieve their Net Zero emissions targets;
  • Harnessing data to quantify and mitigate climate risk;
  • Using satellites to safeguard our waterways;
  • Supporting the creation of clean batteries;
  • and collaboration to end plastic waste.

These are not just CSIRO’s missions.

Some will be led by CSIRO, and some will be led by others, but all will have the collective focus of Australia’s science, technology and investment.

Their size and scale brings the innovation system together, to boldly take on challenges that are far bigger than any single institution.

We are working with government, universities, industry and the community to co-create and deliver these missions.

After months of development, today we launch our first mission.

The hydrogen industry mission will help build Australia’s clean hydrogen industry by scaling demand, and driving down hydrogen cost to under $2 per kilogram by 2030 to deliver a secure and resilient energy system, and support our transition to a low emissions future.

Today CSIRO is proud to bring together the likes of Fortescue, Hyundai, Toyota, Swinburne, and the Australian Hydrogen Council – to name just a few – to launch a $68 million, five-year Australian Hydrogen Industry mission.

As announced by Ministers Christian Porter and Angus Taylor this morning, the mission delivers on CSIRO’s Hydrogen Roadmap, which showed how to seize Australia’s opportunities for a clean hydrogen industry, to make it real.

The mission builds on many years of work at CSIRO in hydrogen technology, as well as many decades of research and solutions to decarbonisation and lowering emissions, including carbon capture and storage, tracking emissions, and emissions abatement.

One example of this is CSIRO partnering with AEMO to lead the Australian contingent contributing to the Global Power System Transformation, announced by US President Biden at the global climate summit last month.

The Hydrogen Industry Mission was one of the key programs announced in 2019 as part of the Federal Government’s National Hydrogen Strategy.

Our goal, in line with the National Strategy, is to help Australia build a clean hydrogen industry by leveraging breakthrough science to drive down hydrogen cost to under $2 per kilogram, to deliver a secure and resilient energy system, and support our transition to a low emissions future.

Together with our partners, we are investing and building coalitions across four critical areas of activity that will deliver more than 100 projects – some that we’ve already started:

The first is a Hydrogen Knowledge Centre to demystify the science technology and engineering of Hydrogen energy, and focus on solving the roadblocks identified in our National roadmap – like how to drive the price of renewable hydrogen from between $6-$9 per kilogram down to under $2.

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 practical solutions from science to government, industry and the community.

This builds on earlier work including the National Hydrogen Roadmap, and more recently, industry analysis and cost modelling which helped underpin the Government’s “H2 under 2” stretch goal.

The third is to leverage our breakthrough science technology and engineering to help build Demonstration Projects that make it real – validate hydrogen value chains and de-risk enabling technologies.

For example, the hydrogen refueller we’re developing at our site in Melbourne with Swinburne University, as part of the Victorian Hydrogen Hub which I mentioned earlier.

In the broader energy transition, no matter how much we love solar, wind and batteries, industry needs fuels.

Gas is playing a key role underpinning our energy transition to renewables and ultimately zero emissions.

The question is, how quickly can we replace natural gas with hydrogen, so Australia’s energy and export futures send emissions down to zero, but profits up to the sky?

There are some tough questions we need to answer:

  • Can hydrogen solve the energy storage problem for 100% renewables?
  • Can we power a small town or large mine site entirely from hydrogen?
  • Can we keep the paradigm of liquid fuel, but make it zero emissions?
  • Can we make green steel?
  • Can we power a ship, train or plane with hydrogen?

These are questions we are aiming to answer with the fourth commitment in our mission.

The fourth area is Enabling Science and Technology, which encompasses our CSIRO Future Science Platform – where we do breakthrough science – and our $20 million dollar partnership with Fortescue Future Industries.   

Investment here creates the opportunity to really change the game.

Now I don’t want to give away the game but, if you peeked into one of our labs you might see our engineers taking water, sunlight, and air – and our enzyme chemists, energy physicists, and manufacturing engineers all working together trying to create hydrogen and ammonia under ambient conditions.

Our Agriculture and Food team are pretty keen on this too, because it could revolutionise both the energy sector and the agriculture sector, and catalysing some real change; a bit like when we commercialised FutureFeed to eliminate emissions from cattle.

This is a challenge our people are working on right now. And when I say our people, I mean all of them, because solving the seemingly impossible with science harnesses every branch of science and engineering we have.

It reaches from AI to predict the right alloys we need, to social science to predict human behaviour to drive the change – and every branch of physical science and engineering in between.

Today’s CSIRO is one of the largest mission-directed Solutions from Science Agencies on the planet – but we don’t do it alone.

Fortescue has been a tremendous partner in areas of breakthrough research and a real trailblazer for industry. Because they know how to turn great Aussie science and ingenuity into engineering that really works.

Chairman Andrew Forrest recently unveiled global ambitions to develop massive renewable power resources to produce green hydrogen, making Fortescue 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.

We’ve all lived through major market transitions in our lifetimes – the birth of the computer, deregulation of telecommunications, which led to the internet.

I don’t need to tell anyone in this room about the potential for economic growth when there is a global market shift – but Hydrogen offers an environmental gain equal to its economic gain.

For that to happen must be a Team Australia endeavour and approached with strength and ambition – we can own this market if we have the courage to lead.

In 1962 JFK set a goal of reaching the moon, and not that long ago, a hydrogen market in Australia seemed like a moonshot.

But CSIRO has been working with our partners to deliver moonshots for 100 years, and in so doing, created a better future for all Australians.

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