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Today, AGL’s Loy Yang power station is a typical coal power station that uses brown coal from Victorian brown coal to produce electricity. However, this is about to change, as AGL plans to produce hydrogen using the same brown coal.

Coal, mainly composed of carbon and other elements, including hydrogen, can be converted into usable fuel. The process involves gasifying coal and reacting the resulting compounds with water to generate hydrogen. Brown coal, primarily found in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley, is considered better for gasification due to its high oxygen content and inherent instability.

Although hydrogen derived from coal is not a zero-emission fuel, its centralized production allows for efficient pollution control and promotes the development of the hydrogen economy.

The Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain (HESC) Project aims to develop a world-first endeavor to produce and transport clean liquid hydrogen from Latrobe Valley’s brown coal in Victoria, Australia, to Kobe, Japan[1]. The HESC project aspires to facilitate the growth of Australia’s hydrogen industry, deliver economic benefits, and contribute to a cleaner energy future. However, the initiative raises questions about its potential long-term environmental impact.

Technological Feat: Producing Hydrogen from Brown Coal

Brown coal, found mainly in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley, is generally preferred for gasification over black coal due to its high oxygen content and chemical instability[1]. Brown coal contains slightly more hydrogen than black coal, but its high oxygen content contributes to its breakdown during the gasification reaction.

The process of producing hydrogen from brown coal involves partial oxidation, whereby air is added to the coal, generating traditional combustion alongside carbon dioxide gas. Carbon dioxide subsequently reacts with the remaining carbon in the coal, forming carbon monoxide. The carbon monoxide reacts with steam, producing hydrogen and more carbon dioxide[1].

Environmental Implications of Coal-Derived Hydrogen

Although the project aims to provide a cleaner energy source, it is essential to scrutinize the environmental implications of producing hydrogen from coal. Carbon dioxide is emitted during combustion, thermal decomposition reactions, and the reaction between carbon monoxide and water to create hydrogen and carbon dioxide[1].

However, hydrogen has the potential to be a clean fuel. When used as such, it generates only water as a byproduct. AGL Energy’s centralized hydrogen production from coal allows for efficient pollution control, particulate removal, and potentially carbon dioxide capture[1]. The current focus is on producing hydrogen from coal with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). By doing so, a HESC project could supply hydrogen globally and contribute to emissions reductions.

Economic and Employment Benefits of the HESC Project

Completing the HESC Pilot Project created approximately 400 jobs across the Victorian supply chain, while the commercial phase could generate a potential 1,000 jobs per year[2]. The HESC project’s economic value could serve as a foundation for Australia to create a thriving hydrogen export industry, which would lead to significant local economic benefits and contribute to global environmental goals. Australia could be the first country to build a global hydrogen export industry that stimulates growth and innovation in clean energy.

Challenges and Future Prospects

While the HESC project demonstrates the exciting potential for clean hydrogen production and export, there are challenges to address. Concerns regarding the environmental impact of expanding coal usage, obtaining regulatory approvals, and water resource management must be considered[4]. Additionally, scrutinizing the environmental impact of hydrogen derived from coal is crucial to aligning the HESC project with global goals prioritizing renewable resources and clean energy transitions.

In conclusion, the Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain (HESC) project illustrates the innovative power of hydrogen production from coal, promising a cleaner energy alternative for the world. However, it is essential to carefully analyze the environmental aspects of expanding coal usage to ensure long-term sustainability and a genuine commitment to clean energy solutions.


[1] the Conversation
[2] HESC project
[3] Reuters
[4] Friends of Latrobe Water