Australia could cut global emissions with green metals

Australia could significantly cut global greenhouse gas emissions and double its export revenue by producing green metals, former competition leader Rod Sims says.

But the Superpower Institute chairman also said the forthcoming federal budget would need to address hurdles to launching renewable energy projects and Australia would need to tax fossil fuels by 2030 to make the most of its opportunity.

Mr Sims made the comments at CEDA’s second annual Climate and Energy Forum in Brisbane on Wednesday, which attracted energy experts from groups including the Climate Council, Fortescue, and the Australian Energy Market Operator.

The former Australian Competition and Consumer Commission boss said Australia had a huge comparable advantage in renewable energy and could cut more than its one per cent contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions with the right projects.

“We could remove, according to our estimates, another six to nine per cent of global emissions that other countries will find very difficult to abate by making, for example, green iron, green aluminium, polysilicon, transport fuels and urea fertiliser,” he said.

“By turning our iron ore into green metal alone… that would reduce world emissions by three per cent or three times what we can from decarbonising Australia.”

The same green metal production could not be achieved in other countries, Mr Sims said, as they could not produce as much green hydrogen domestically and importing the material would raise prices.

Green energy exports could boost Australia’s export revenue by $250 to $300 billion, he said, outperforming annual coal and gas exports that currently attracted $120 to $220 billion each year.

But Fortescue innovation committee chairman Larry Marshall told the event Australia did not have to introduce full manufacturing capabilities to realise some of its renewable energy potential, as it could export materials to its existing partners.

“I don’t think we’ll make green steel in this country… but I do agree with Rod that we’ll manufacture green iron,” Dr Marshall said.

“Australia can make iron ore 10 times more valuable by turning it into green iron or a green iron precursor that can be shipped to China.”

Mr Sims said Australia would need changes to make the transition to renewable exports, including measures in next week’s federal budget to address “bottlenecks” to approving renewable energy projects.

By 2030, he said, the government should also introduce taxes on fossil fuel mining to level the playing field.

“Green products are more expensive than products made with fossil fuels because the latter don’t pay for the damage they cause,” he said.

“I know that increasing taxes is borderline impossible in Australia… but I think as Australia realises that the transition is here, that it is not changing, taxing fossil fuels is the best way.”

Energy and metals firms Rio Tinto, BHP and BlueScope Steel launched a pilot project to investigate green steel production in February, and Australia currently has several green hydrogen projects underway, including a $138 million Central Queensland Hydrogen Hub in Aldoga, outside Gladstone.


Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson
(Australian Associated Press)


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