ANU research details path to decarbonise exports


By Brandon How

New research from the Australian National University has laid out the capabilities needed if Australia is to adopt a zero-carbon export model.

Calculations in the study found that in the financial year 2018-19, Australia exported the equivalent of almost two billion tonnes of carbon dioxide through its ‘benchmark exports’, roughly four per cent of global emissions. Of these exports, 98 per cent went to Asia-Pacific trading partners.

If Australia replaces its benchmark exports of thermal coal, liquefied natural gas, iron ore, and aluminium ores with green alternatives, it could reduce the greenhouse gas emissions in the Asia-Pacific by 8.6 percent, according to the study.

The decarbonisation potential could be unlocked if Australia shifts to a commodity export model centred on renewable electricity through undersea cables, zero-carbon fuels like green hydrogen, and green metals processed from Australian ores using renewable energy, according to the paper.

Lead author Professor Paul Burke said Australia had the chance to pivot away from fossil fuels.

Professor Burke said: “Australia is one of the world’s largest exporters of fossil fuels and we have a real chance to shift to a much cleaner export bundle.

“Becoming a clean commodity exporter could generate sustainable export revenues for Australia and play a useful role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions well beyond our border.”

Research from the Australian National University quantifies what a zero-carbon export model would require to replace the energy equivalent of Australia’s annual thermal coal and natural gas exports – the country would need to export 65 million tonnes of hydrogen, and solar and wind energy equivalent to twice the annual level of electricity production.

Meeting the hydrogen production figure would require an amount of water equivalent to 80 per cent of the water used in the Australian mining industry.

The renewable electricity required for export and to process all currently exported iron and aluminium ore would be the equivalent of 27 times Australia’s annual electricity generation.

This assumes that energy exports are comprised of hydrogen and renewable electricity in an 80:20 mix and that renewable electricity is evenly supplied by wind and solar.

Co-author Dr Fiona Beck said the area of land required to produce energy for exports is relatively small given Australia’s strong wind and solar resources.

Under the zero-carbon model, production of steel and aluminium would ramp up to 510Mt and 18Mt respectively as all currently exported iron and aluminium ores would be processed using renewables. In 2018-19 Australia produced 6Mt of steel and two Mt of aluminium.

Although the paper acknowledges its zero-carbon export model is ambitious, it argues that the requirements are feasible. This is based on the continued low cost solar and wind generation as well as the desalinisation of seawater using renewable electricity.

Co-author Professor Ken Baldwin said that the investment required for the export model outlined in the paper could be greater than the investment needed for Australia’s domestic energy transition.

Demand for low-emissions imports in APAC is growing as net-zero emission commitments have already been made by China, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, India, Singapore, and New Zealand.

This story first appeared in InnovationAus

Picture: Adbri/Adbri is studying decarbonising its lime production

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