Blog | 17th Apr, 2024

Converting brown coal to hydrogen? The zombie coal project that we need to stop!

It’s the zombie coal project you’ve never heard of. A group of Japanese companies (J-POWER and Sumitomo corporation) want to build a ‘gasification plant’ to extract hydrogen from BROWN COAL and then ship it to Japan through the Port of Hastings.

If it proceeds, it could create more than 3 million tonnes of carbon pollution every year, equivalent to adding over 550,000 petrol cars to the road! [1]

Using brown coal is the most polluting possible way to make hydrogen. In fact, it’s even more polluting than burning brown coal in a power station because 35% of the energy is lost in the gasification process!

Speak up and help stop this project

Way back in April 2018 the Federal and Victorian governments provided $100 million in public funding to run a small pilot experiment. This test project used a whopping 150 tonnes of coal to make one single tonne of hydrogen.

It was such a terrible idea that many people thought it would simply fall over on its own – like every other attempt to repurpose dirty brown coal. But this coal zombie is putting up a fight!

With the trial complete, there’s now a risk that it could be scaled up into a full commercial operation. But if the Victorian government rules out any more funding or support, we can stop this polluting project in its tracks!

Send a message to your local MP

Four reasons why this project is a terrible idea

Using brown coal is the dirtiest possible way to make hydrogen

If it goes ahead, it could create more than 3 million tonnes of carbon pollution every year, equivalent to adding over 550,000 petrol cars to the road!

It would create local air and water pollution in the Latrobe valley

At full scale this project could use up to 30 million tonnes of brown coal every year. The mining process pollutes the air with harmful coal dust and gasification would create toxic coal ash – something which has already polluted the groundwater in the Latrobe valley.

It’s possible they’ll have to dig a NEW brown coal mine

There’s little interest from existing mine operators in hosting this project, they’re more interested in rehabilitating their mines once the coal power stations shut down. So there’s a risk they’ll have to dig a new mine for this project, which would be a disaster.

We should focus on making clean hydrogen using wind and solar power instead

Plans for green hydrogen production are well under way, with Fortescue powering ahead with their plans in Queensland, and South Australia quickly progressing their plans for green hydrogen as well.

What about their ‘promise’ to use Carbon Capture and Storage’ (CCS)?

CCS is the idea that you can capture carbon dioxide from a polluting project and pump it underground. The corporations involved have said that they intend to use CCS, but they have not invested any money in it, and it is entirely possible that the project will proceed without CCS. [2]

There’s a long list of reasons to be sceptical about their promise to use CCS …

1. Around the world most attempts at using CCS have been an unmitigated failure. For example, Chevron’s Gorgon CCS project is Australia’s only serious attempt at CCS. It has cost $3.2 billion so far, been beset by faults and delays, and still operates at less than half of its proposed capacity.

2. In the unlikely event they manage to make CCS work, it would still not capture 100% of the project’s pollution. Again, looking at the example of Gorgon – it has only managed to capture 32% of the project’s carbon pollution, which means millions of tonnes are still spewing into the atmosphere.

3. CCS shouldn’t be used as a cover to greenwash new sources of carbon pollution, especially where there are clean alternatives. We can make truly clean hydrogen using renewable energy, and should save what limited capacity we have for CCS to be used for industries where there are no alternatives.

4. There are unknown consequences of storing carbon dioxide underground. Scientists have identified risks to soil and ocean acidification and erosion associated with this process. Their current plan involves using decades-old gas wells which we already know leak, undermining the argument that emissions are avoided.

5. CCS is still extremely expensive which could make the project unviable.

In summary 

Creating hydrogen using brown coal makes no sense when it can be produced from renewable sources like wind and solar. 

The Latrobe Valley has seen a long list of failed coal projects come and go. Brown coal is one of the dirtiest possible sources of energy, and governments need to stop wasting public funds on these polluting boondoggles and focus on the real resources in the Latrobe Valley – the people and their skills.

Make sure your local MP knows you oppose this project


Both the Australia Institute and the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) have produced reports that pick apart the viability of this project and their false claims that it will cut pollution. 

It's time to stop with the distractions and get on with creating real sustainable long-term opportunities in the Latrobe Valley