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Australia’s regional ports are well-placed to benefit from the decarbonisation of global shipping fleets to run off “green fuels” such as ammonia and hydrogen, according to renowned Australian environmental scientist professor Peter Newman.

Referencing new research from The World Bank, the professor of sustainability at Curtin University in Perth told The Fifth Estate that there’s “no room” for gas in the decarbonisation of the maritime transport and that green fuels are the answer to reducing emissions in the shipping sector.

“The World Bank report shows you will have stranded assets if you try and make an LNG-based shipping fleet, it is not needed.”

According to the report about the shipping industry, which is responsible for 3 per cent of global emissions, there’s an estimated $1 trillion-plus future fuel market up for grabs. The report notes that countries with large renewable energy resources, such as Australia, are poised to take advantage of this emerging market.

Green hydrogen makes sense in the bush, not cities

Unlike the trains, cars, bikes and scooters used to move people around cities that are easy to electrify and run off renewables, ships and planes “need more grunt” and lithium-ion batteries are unlikely to be up to the task.

The other complication with planes and ships is that they have long lifespans so need cleaner alternatives to work with existing fleets. Newman says its “quite simple” to make hydrogen out of solar and wind and then turn it into various marine or jet fuels.

“What we are now seeing is ammonia is winning the race on shipping and synthetic jet fuel for planes.”

The problem with hydrogen, however, is that it’s difficult to store and transport.

Newman’s solution to these challenges is turning spacious regional ports into green hydrogen hubs for making marine and aviation fuels as well as other sustainable exports such as green steel, battery metals and green food products.

He says clustering industrial processes around shipping and freight “in the bush” is an economically viable pathway for green hydrogen.

“It’s not going to be much use at all in the cities, it’s going to be very expensive and you can already use renewables directly in houses and cars.”

As per economist Ross Garnaut’s vision to turn Australia into a renewable superpower, Newman reiterates that Australia has all the sun and wind it needs to become a leader in green manufacturing and start exporting value-added product rather than just sending raw materials to markets such as Europe.

He said the report’s findings support Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest’s plans to use his iron ore mining business FMG as a petri dish for green hydrogen and ammonia technologies, including transitioning its ship fleet to green ammonia.

The timing of the report also follows opposition leader Anthony Albanese’s recent election commitment to a $15 billion fund to create a manufacturing sector powered by clean energy, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s failure to commit to a net zero target ahead of a global climate summit.