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The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) will fund the APA Group’s (APA) build of a modular renewable methane production demonstration plant.

ARENA will provide $1.1 million to APA for the build at its Wallumbilla Gas Hub near Roma in Queensland.

The ‘power to gas’ demonstration plant will produce approximately 620kg of hydrogen per year, converting it into 74GJ of methane that can then be injected into APA’s natural gas pipelines across the east coast gas grid.

Renewable methane could enable the decarbonisation of Australia’s existing gas infrastructure, including gas transmission and distribution networks, and export supply chains.

APA has partnered with Southern Green Gas to develop the $2.2 million project to demonstrate the renewable methane process. 

The project offers the chance to assess the benefits of using methane to ‘green’ gas networks, compared to other similar ARENA-funded projects that aim to use renewable hydrogen directly.

The renewable methane process involves the production of renewable hydrogen from an Anion Exchange Membrane (AEM) electrolyser. 

The electrolyser uses water extracted from the atmosphere and is powered by solar PV. The hydrogen produced is then converted to methane by reaction with carbon dioxide, which is also extracted directly from the atmosphere.

The demonstration plant will generate cost and technical data to be used to assess the feasibility of a larger, commercial-scale, renewable methane plant.

ARENA CEO, Darren Miller, said, “Renewable methane is in effect indistinguishable from the methane that currently fills our natural gas pipelines. 

“The gas network is expected to play a key role in supporting the decarbonisation of Australia’s energy system.

“This project will demonstrate the viability of producing renewable methane from solar power. Through a new and innovative approach, the project will capture moisture in the air to produce renewable hydrogen as a precursor to renewable methane.

“At scale, renewable methane has the potential to be a significant source of Australia’s future natural gas requirements all through the deployment of solar energy and capturing the water from the atmosphere. 

“Renewable methane is compatible with Australia’s developing hydrogen sector in that known technologies can convert methane to hydrogen and vice versa.” 

APA Group’s CEO and Managing Director, Rob Wheals, said, “ARENA’s support means we can work to understand the costs and benefits of generating renewable methane for use in the existing east coast gas grid. 

“This is a great example of government support for innovation in the Australian energy industry. APA is excited about its part in this process.

“We know the science of producing methane. This unique project is the first step in testing whether it is possible on an industrial scale to create methane, using solar-generated electricity, water and CO2 from the atmosphere.

“With this project we’re aiming to determine whether this carbon neutral process might be part of the green energy solution of the future, and if our pipelines can be used to transport pure renewable energy domestically or to be exported.”

Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor, said the project is a great innovation, and could provide a number of benefits, particularly for regional communities and east coast gas users.

“It is great to see industry working on new methods to blend hydrogen into existing gas infrastructure by creating renewable methane. This type of innovative work is exactly what we need to see to grow our domestic hydrogen industry,” Mr Taylor said.

“Integrating renewable energy sources into Australia’s gas distribution system is a crucial step in delivering long-term secure and reliable energy, and reducing emissions.”

Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management and Member for Maranoa, David Littleproud, said innovation in the Maranoa region could play an essential role in the development of Australia’s future renewable energy sector.

“This demonstration plant has the potential to diversify Wallumbilla’s economy, create jobs for future generations and be one of the leaders in the renewable methane field,” Mr Littleproud said.

“Science and innovation play key roles in developing new opportunities, not only in urban areas but in rural areas too – Wallumbilla will be the site for these developments.”

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