In pursuit of net zero

Like the rest of the world, Australia has committed to decarbonising. And beyond the nation’s official Paris Agreement obligations, there’s widespread community agitation to reduce CO2 emissions to net zero by 2050.

But achieving this in a country predicting 40 per cent population growth over that period, and renowned as one of the world’s worst per-capita emitters, won’t be easy. Multiple measures will need to be invested in, at the right times, to enable a smooth economic transition—and that’s going to require vast, global intelligence and extensive data modelling capability.

On both counts, the University of Adelaide is helping to make it happen. A research team at the University has led two important collaborative projects at the Australian Government-funded Future Fuels Cooperative Research Centre (CRC): one, analysing the various paths being taken around the world to introduce ‘green’ hydrogen into economies; and the other, building a massive, highly detailed model of the entire Australian economy to predict the likely impact of emissions-reduction measures, including the introduction of green hydrogen.

“Our overarching objective is to help make it easier for Australia to reduce its carbon emissions by optimising the sequence of investments it makes,” says research lead Professor Mike Young and member of the Environment Institute.

“Getting that right will save the country huge amounts of money and help to build public support. Both of those outcomes are critical for maintaining our decarbonisation momentum.” The team’s first step was an in-depth global hydrogen roadmaps review. This was completed in mid-2019 and submitted to the Australian Government to help inform its National Hydrogen Strategy, launched later that year.

According to Young, the review included nuanced analysis of hydrogen strategies being implemented in 19 different regions and nations—even some individual cities—including the US, European Union, South Korea, China and London. “We looked at how each of these entities is approaching all aspects of building and strengthening their hydrogen infrastructure, industry and use. Then we identified a series of key takeaways that we felt were particularly pertinent for Australia—a nation blessed with all the necessary resources to produce abundant green hydrogen.”

The economy-wide modelling project was launched as a follow-on in 2020, and remains ongoing. Its potential benefits, says Young, are enormous. “We’re building the capability to assess the likely economic, societal and greenhouse impact of every conceivable emissions reduction measure—and their timing relative to each other— right across the country.

“We’re even enabling emissions hotspots, like Western Australia’s Pilbara and South Australia’s ‘iron triangle’, to be modelled independently. “Hopefully this will help replace economic doubt and fear with excitement for a brighter future.”

Published in the University of Adelaide’s inSight Magazine.

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