Fortescue Announces Partnership with CSIRO to Develop Hydrogen Technologies

Mining Giant Fortescue Metals Group has pledged $19-million over a five-year period to fund the CSIRO’s research of optimising hydrogen as a sustainable fuel source out of its Brisbane laboratories.

The move can be seen as at the very least partially-inspired by the guiding principles of ISO 14001, which requires businesses to take a more proactive approach to environmental concerns, including the research and development – where applicable, considering the size of an enterprise – of new methods of production. Hydrogen is the most abundant element on earth, so proper utilisation of the element for lower-emission energy production seems like the ISO-14001-inspired approach to tackling growing energy needs in the future.

Chairman of Fortescue and mining magnate Andrew Forrest said: “We are at the beginning of an energy revolution, and Fortescue intends to be at the forefront of this once-in-a-generation opportunity.”

Chief executive at Fortescue, Elizabeth Gaines says the recently-announced investment plan will enable Fortescue to reduce operational costs with new opportunities and technologies. “We’re a major consumer of energy, so we’re always looking for an opportunity to lower our cost base and increase efficiency.” Ms Gaines told Fairfax.

The CSIRO has called the investment an opportunity for Fortescue, one of Australia’s largest iron-ore mining firms to “reinvent themselves” through partnership with a internationally-acclaimed research group. It’s also a chance for Fortescue to join the hydrogen energy boom, which is forecasted to replace both petroleum and natural gas as a fuel source, converting hydrogen into usable energy through the use of a fuel cell.

Graphic taken from the CSIRO’s National Hydrogen Roadmap Executive Summary

“Today we’re seeing a ‘market pull’ from companies like Fortescue to reinvent themselves through deep science-driven innovation and follow the global market shift towards a low-emissions energy future, and in so doing create a whole new export market for our vast clean energy resources.” CSIRO chief executive Larry Marshall told Fairfax.

Earlier this year, the CSIRO published its ‘National Hydrogen Roadmap’ detailing that globally speaking, “the hydrogen industry is underpinned by a series of mature technologies and relevant markets [that] are on the verge of reaching a ‘tipping point’. That tipping point is the “development of an appropriate policy framework [that] could create a ‘market pull’ for hydrogen. Investment in infrastructure, hydrogen production, storage and transport is then likely to follow.”

As it stands, automotive manufacturers have already released hybrid (hydrogen mated to an internal combustion or electric engine) vehicles that utilise hydrogen, but hydrogen infrastructure globally is lacking in its ability to capture, store and transport hydrogen.

According to reports, one of Fortescue’s key considerations with the partnership could act to solve this problem, through the CSIRO’s metal membrane technology, which provides a framework to store and transport usable hydrogen energy stored in ammonia; previously the storage and transport of hydrogen was one of the biggest challenges facing researchers hoping to make hydrogen a widely-available source of energy.

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