NCWQ Environment Report: November 2021

NCWQ Environment Report November 2021

By Pat Pepper, NCWQ Environmental Adviser

Environment Summary

Renewable technology is continually improving and there have been several developments to complement renewable energy sources. The major objection to solar and wind energy has been that they are intermittent energy sources requiring to be backed up by dispatchable power. Lithium-ion, Vanadium Redox Flow and Hydrogen Batteries are contenders in specific areas and situations as is Hydro Electrolyser and Pumped Hydro Storage. Hydrogen generates heat energy to generate electricity in power stations and can be used for storage for later use. Disposal and recycling at the end of the life of components of the various sources need to be addressed.

With an abundance of natural resources to make clean energy, Australia should be in a good position to satisfy local energy needs and export hydrogen to other countries to help satisfy their needs.

Batteries: University of Queensland (UQ) successfully demonstrated how behind-the-meter battery storage (1.11 MW/2.15 MWh ~2 hours at full power) can generate revenue and reduce energy costs by charging when energy spot prices are low and discharging when prices are high. The business case for behind-the-meter energy storage: Q1 performance of UQ’s 1.1MW Tesla battery

Because of the high rooftop solar penetration in Qld, five community batteries with combined capacity of 40MWh are being installed at five network-connected regional substations in Hervey Bay, Bundaberg, Townsville, Yeppoon, and Toowoomba. A network-connected a 4MW /8 MWh Tesla battery is already operating in Townsville. The aim is to capture the low-cost renewable energy during the day to distribute into the market in the high-use peak periods.

Lithium-ion battery recycling and reuse: Driven by high demands from the energy storage system (ESS) and electric vehicle (EV) sectors, production of lithium-ion battery (LIB) with life span of 5-15 years is expected will surge in the future. As grid utility scale installations come off-line in the next 10-20 years, battery modules will enter the waste stream and it is imperative to plan for their disposal now.  Disassembly of large EV and ESS batteries containing several hundred cells grouped in modules is more complicated than the smaller consumer electronic LIBs.  However, there are opportunities for battery recycling and material recovery. Zhao Y, Ruether T, Bhatt AI, Staines J (2021) Australian landscape for lithium-ion battery recycling and reuse in 2020 – Current status, gap analysis and industry perspectives, CSIRO, Australia.

Vanadium Redox Flow Batteries (VRB):  As reported in NCWQ Environmental Report, February 2021) Vanadium could be a feasible alternative to Lithium. VRBs can reliably charge and discharge indefinitely in contrast to a lithium-ion battery, which relies on repeated chemical reactions that cause degradation over time and eventually lead to performance losses.  UQ installed a 150 kW / 600 kWh VRB at the Heron Island Research Station as part of an off-grid hybrid renewable power station. Q1 performance of UQ’s 1.1MW Tesla battery. The electrochemistry of the transition element Vanadium and the evolving design of VRBs offers a path to large scale energy storage units.; ; reviews/vanadium#:~:text=Australia’s%20EDR%20of%20vanadium%20increased,in%202016%20(Table%202) Australia has 18% of the world vanadium resources.

Australian vanadium deposits as at 31 December 2017. kt V = thousand tonnes of vanadium content.

Also, vanadium can be recovered as a by-product or a co-product of steel slags.

Bibliographical reference: Summerfield, D., 2019. Australian Resource Reviews: Vanadium 2018. Geoscience Australia, Canberra. 

Australian Vanadium has a proposal to produce an enriched vanadium-iron concentrate from a location 40 km south-southeast of Meekatharra where it proposed to develop open mine pits and associated infrastructure including but not limited to access roads, accommodation camp, a crushing, milling, flotation, and magnetic separation (beneficiation) plant, waste rock and tailings storage, and support infrastructure.

A mining lease has recently been granted for Multicom’s Saint Elmo mine, near Julia Creek in a potential vanadium hub in the far north-west, with other companies progressing other potential mines.

VRBs can store prolific amounts of energy, which solves the major drawback of solar and wind energy sources. The only limitation is the scarcity of the planet’s economically viable vanadium deposits but with 18% of the world vanadium resources, Australia is a good position to take advantage of this technology.

Hydrogen: When hydrogen reacts with oxygen in the air, it generates heat energy which can be used to power fuel cell vehicles or generate electricity in power stations. It is a flexible energy source which can be used immediately or be stored and transported for later use. As a fuel it produces no carbon emissions, only water.;

Hydrogen has been identified as a key technology for decarbonising energy systems in Australia’s National Hydrogen Strategy (Commonwealth of Australia, 2019).

The primary methods currently available for producing clean hydrogen include:

  • Renewable hydrogen (Green Hydrogen) where renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power are used to source the electricity required to split hydrogen from water using a process known as electrolysis.
  • Carbon capture and storage hydrogen (Blue Hydrogen) where hydrogen is produced through a thermochemical reaction using water and fossil fuel feedstocks such as coal (coal gasification) or natural gas (steam methane reforming). The CO2emissions created as a by‑product are captured and stored in deep sub‑surface geological formations.

Like natural gas or liquefied natural gas, hydrogen can be transported by pipelines, trucks, or ships in compressed, liquefied form, or as a chemical compound such as ammonia or methylcyclohexane (MCH). Hydrogen can be stored in tanks on the surface, or in sub‑surface salt caverns or depleted gas fields.

The map above shows locations and status of hydrogen projects in Australia as of January 2021. Also shown is the renewable hydrogen suitability across Australia based on access to water, ports, and electricity infrastructure 

Blue Hydrogen: The potential to provide clean, economically viable hydrogen through gasification of coal, and associated carbon capture and storage of CO2 by‑products in suitable geological storage sites within the Gippsland Basin has been demonstrated.

Green Hydrogen: Japanese company, Eneos, in collaboration with Neoen Australia is investigating the construction of a supply chain of affordable and stable CO2-free hydrogen between Japan and Australia. The manufacture of hydrogen from renewable energy-derived power through water electrolysis, its conversion into MCH for storage and transport will be investigated together with the receipt, storage, and dehydrogenation of MCH at Eneos refineries in Japan.  There, the resulting supply of hydrogen would be used at nearby thermal power plants and steel refineries, and toluene separated in the dehydrogenation process returned to Australia for repeat use as a raw material in MCH production.


A similar study between Eneos, and Origin Energy is planned in Queensland. Existing infrastructure such as storage tanks, shipping and port facilities currently used for coal and natural gas have the potential to be utilized for hydrogen export.


The Australian Government is investing $1.2 billion into building a hydrogen industry. $464 million of which will develop clean hydrogen industrial hubs to bring together hydrogen users, producers, and potential exporters in regions across Australia. Priority prospective hub regions are Bell Bay (TAS), Pilbara (WA), Gladstone (QLD), La Trobe Valley (VIC), Eyre Peninsula (Whyalla – SA), Hunter Valley (NSW) and Darwin (NT). content area. $566 million is allocated to strategic international partnerships that Dr Alan Finkel, formerly Australia’s Chief Scientist, is leading as the Government’s special advisor on low emissions technologies. Partnerships with Singapore, Germany and Japan aim to attract investment, build supply chains, and advance research and technology. content area


In 2019, the Queensland Government released its Hydrogen Strategy (2019 – 2024), allocating $15 million over four years for a Hydrogen Industry Development Fund (HIDF). In the HIDF Round 1, approved projects were:

  • Australian Gas Networks Ltd – ≤$1.78 million to build a renewable hydrogen production facility and undertake a gas blending trial of up to 10% hydrogen into the Gladstone City gas distribution network.
  • Jilrift Pty Ltd – ≤$0.94 million to build a renewable hydrogen plant and demonstrate use of low-pressure hydride remote power systems at its eco-camps within the Spicers Resorts Scenic Rim trail.
  • Sun Metals Corporation ≤$5 million for integration of renewable hydrogen into potential applications including remote area power, transport and heavy industry.
  • University of Queensland ≤$4.85 million to build a renewable hydrogen plant and refuelling facility to service inter-campus hydrogen buses between St Lucia and Gatton.

In the HIDF Round 2 with a further $10M, priority project categories are:

  • application of hydrogen technologies in the mobility/transport sector
  • integration of hydrogen technologies with wastewater treatment plants.

New South Wales plans to be a significant producer of hydrogen for domestic use and export, through a A$3bn state-funded investment plan for the expansion of renewable energy to produce hydrogen rather than for alternative methods of producing hydrogen from coal or gas.


Australian Energy Market Operator predicts Australia could start producing hydrogen from grid-connected electrolysers in 2024-2025 and satisfy around 17% of total power demand within five years. More than 10 hydrogen projects in Australia are proposed to have electrolysers with power capacity of 100MW or more, and many more at a smaller scale

Hydrogen Battery: The world’s first commercial hydrogen storage battery is being produced at Springfield, Queensland by the LAVO company. Hydrogen from the electrolysis process accumulates in fuel cells to create clean green energy. It is claimed to be able to power a home for up to two days on a single charge. However, there are questions about the battery’s efficiency. But with funding available, this should be solvable.

With an abundance of natural resources to make clean energy, Australia should be in a good position to satisfy local energy needs and export hydrogen to the other countries to help satisfy their needs.

Solar Farms with Batteries.  The Lakeland 10.8MW Solar farm at a fringe-of- grid location 240kms north of Cairns, has been integrated with a battery (1.4MW/5.3MWh lithium-ion).

Proposed large scale solar farms with batteries include

  • Lower Wonga Solar Farm (Stage 1) Solar 350MW Battery 200MW
  • Lower Wonga Solar Farm (Stage 2) Solar 800MW Battery 800MW
  • Harlin Solar farm Solar 1500MW Battery 500MW Image: Enel


Solar Power: Existing solar farms can connect to the grid e.g The 150 MW Daydream Solar Farm, north of Collinsville, secured a power purchase agreement with Origin Energy to buy all the output and renewable energy certificates from the development. Nearby 60W Hayman Solar Farm is generating to the grid on a merchant only basis.

End of life Photovoltaic (PV) systems: Over 100,000 tonnes of solar panels are estimated to enter Australia’s waste stream by 2035 with the accompanying possibility of environmental and human health problem from leaching of harmful materials. While solar panels’ aluminium frames and junction boxes are most commonly or easily recycled, the remaining 83% materials (including glass, silicon, and polymer back sheeting) are not currently recyclable in Australia.  With 35 existing solar farms, five under construction and 78 proposed in Queensland,  the Queensland Government is urged to actively advance the national approach to deal with PV system waste and promote the recycling industry.

Solar and wind energy with battery storage: Kennedy Energy Park has combined wind (43MW)and solar (15MW) energy with 2 MW battery storage  in Flinders Shire in CNQ and is now suppling energy to the grid. The ultimate plan is to construct up to 1,200 MW of renewable energy generation in the region.

Wind energy with battery: Kaban Green Power Hub near Ravenshoe,  consists of a 157 MW wind farm with approval for a 100 MW battery, and a transmission line upgrade from 132 to 275 kV of the North Queensland coastal circuit .

Wind Power: Coopers Gap is the largest wind farm in Queensland with a capacity of up to 453 MW (607,000 hp) when all 123 wind turbines are up and running. Its first grid output was registered in June 2019.

Disposal or Recycling of Wind Turbine Blades: By 2050, 43 million tonnes of decommissioned turbine blades could end up in landfill globally, because they are hard to recycle, although 90% of the other components of a wind turbine are recyclable.

However, research into using thermoplastic resin blades looks promising for the future. Meanwhile, new technology could separate the glass or carbon fibre in the blade from the resin and further separate the resin into base materials to be used in constructing new blades

In Australia 2020, 9.9% of renewable energy came from wind. Clean Energy Council. Clean Energy Australia Report 2021  

With five existing wind farms, four under construction and 19 proposed in Queensland,  this problem needs addressing now.


Solar and Wind Energy with Pumped Hydro Storage: The Kidston Pumped Storage Hydro Project (250MW), a disturbed historical mining site, is a closed loop system, which will involve the transfer of water from the upper reservoir to the lower reservoir. This will ensure minimal environmental impact during operation,,%

It is proposed to add a150MW of wind capacity to the solar(320MW) plus pumped hydro (250MW)  Kidston project.

Photo: Genex Power

Solar, Wind, Hydro Electrolyser and Pumped Hydro Storage: The proposed Bowen Renewable Energy Hub (1400MW) is the largest renewable baseload energy project in North Australia. Once operational it will generate over 1,400 MW, reduce carbon emissions and is co-located with the dam. The pumped hydro-electric plant has a storage capacity of 8 hours, and is co-located with solar, wind and a hydro electrolyser to support export scale hydrogen production.

Pumped Hydro Storage: Wivenhoe Pumped Hydro Storage Hydroelectric Power Station (570MW) uses power from the grid to transfer water from the lower to the upper dam from where it is released to generate electricity when required. Factsheet Wivenhoe Pumped Storage Hydroelectric Power Station


Hydro Power: Kareeya Hydro Power Station near Tully is the largest Queensland hydroelectric power station  has a capacity of 88 MW (118,000 hp) which is fed into the National Electricity Market.

Bioenergy from bagasse: Several sugar mills already produce bioenergy with capacity ranging from 5MW to 69 MW at the Milmar Pioneer Mill.   Bagasse burnt in large boilers generates steam and power for the mill, and in some cases  for the grid. Each year Milmar’s eight sugar mills located in the Herbert, Burdekin, Proserpine, and Plane Creek regions generate 202 MW, producing about 620,000 MWh of which 311,000Mwh is exported into the grid.  Bagasse is stockpiled at the mills to secure year-round supply to the boilers so power can be generated 24 hours a day, seven days a week.


Waste to energy: There is a proposal to convert landfill waste to energy (50MW) at Swanbank. While incinerating waste may be better than landfill and cleaner than coal fired power, there are many disadvantages: –

  • undermines more sustainable and preferable waste management options: – reducing, reusing, recycling, and composting.
  • discarded materials such as paper, plastic and glass derived from finite natural resources are not renewables.
  • trash incineration more expensive to build, operate and maintain than renewables, coal, natural gas and nuclear plants.
  • produce toxic ash and air and water pollution, even with “state-of-the-art” pollution control devices (emit more mercury than its coal plants)
  • emit more CO2 per MWh than renewables, coal-fired, natural-gas-fired, or oil-fired power plants
  • incompatible with a closed-loop and circular economy in which the value of products, materials and resources is maintained for as long as possible, waste and resource use minimized.

GAIA-Facts-about WTE incinerators-Jan2018-1.pdf;

Although The Waste Management and Resource Recovery Strategy for Queensland has “waste to energy” as the last option before disposal, municipal waste is rarely renewable.

Pat Pepper, NCWQ Environment Adviser.


photo credit: Acropora corals at Forrester Reef near Cooktown

See More Related Articles