'Superhybrid' Projects Support Hydrogen Production in Australia

An Australia-based company is designing a project that combines multiple power generation technologies into a system that not only creates electricity but also can result in production of hydrogen. Sunshine Hydro recently announced plans for its first Superhybrid installation, in Central Queensland (CQ), a project it calls the Flavian Superhybrid. The company’s system, according to Sunshine Hydro, “combines multiple technologies that are not normally connected. Sunshine Hydro’s typical Superhybrid model includes wind and solar farms feeding into a pumped hydro project which is linked to a hydrogen generation plant. All components are orchestrated to work smoothly together using our AESOP, or Advanced Energy Storage Optimizing Program, control system.” Sunshine Hydro said AESOP “enables engineers to accurately model and optimize hybrid renewable energy storage projects.”

The facility—what the company refers to as “an integrated renewable energy, storage, and green hydrogen infrastructure project”—is sited within Central Queensland’s Renewable Energy Zone, or REZ. Sunshine Hydro said construction of the Superhybrid project will support 1.8 GW of new wind power generation across Queensland, with an estimated capital investment value of about $5.5 billion, including $2 billion for Flavian. The project is the first of three similar-sized Superhybrid projects that Sunshine Hydro and its shareholder and strategic partner, Energy Estate, an Australian renewable energy and green hydrogen developer and accelerator, are designing in the Central Queensland REZ.

Michael Myer, chairman of Sunshine Hydro, said “the combination of the long-duration pumped hydro combined with the fast-acting response of PEM [proton exchange membrane] electrolyzers can provide grid services second to none. Our proprietary software AESOP ensures that these services are available around the clock every day of the year even though the renewable energy sources are variable. AESOP helps deliver multiple robust revenue streams for investors and our contracted green energy will put downward pressure on electricity prices for the benefit of Queensland households.”

1. This graphic shows the results of a simulation of the Flavian Superhybrid project in July of this year, showing the power generation supply and demand. Courtesy: Sunshine Hydro 

Sunshine Hydro said that when fully operational the Flavian Superhybrid (Figure 1) will provide 220 MW of “firm” green energy, or clean energy supplied 24 hours a day 365 days a year. The project is expected to supply 65 metric tons per day of green hydrogen for transport and local industry.

Rick McElhinney, CEO of Sunshine Hydro, held workshops with infrastructure developers and financial groups in New York in June, outlining the technology, and as he said recently, “to explain the workings of the Superhybrid asset class now under development in Gladstone. The workshops will highlight the Gladstone region and prepare key stakeholders for the wave of Superhybrid developments that will traverse the world in the pursuit of decarbonization.”

Gladstone, an area on the east coast of Queensland, is famous for its mining-related industries, which includes exports of coal, liquefied natural gas, aluminum, and more. The Flavian Superhybrid will abate on average 4 million metric tons of carbon annually, which represents a 2.5% reduction of the Queensland region’s current level of annual carbon emissions, according to Sunshine Hydro. The project has been designed to support the decarbonization of existing large energy users in Central Queensland, while backing the growth of new export industries including green steel, green fertilizers, and green ammonia.

McElhinney told POWER, “We have nine projects in Australia of 26 in total that we are expecting to start work on over the next 12 months. Three of these have progressed, with Flavian being the first that has been publicly announced. These are projects that are owned by Sunshine Hydro and each will take five to seven years to complete.” McElhinney added, “Existing pumped hydro projects are also candidates for upgrading to Superhybrids. These can be completed in two to three years so are far more valuable in early decarbonization.”

Those upgrades through use of the AESOP software “can be applied to existing and planned pumped hydro storage projects,” with an eye toward generating “significant benefits in resulting decarbonization and in project profitability,” the company said in a document shared with POWER. “The decision to include a hydrogen production plant as a device to improve electricity supply resilience is somewhat counterintuitive. By adding more hydrogen to the project, it builds resilience, leverages increased renewable energy supply, provides more energy storage, and increases overall revenues. Ultimately, AESOP’s decision-based matrix is directed to prioritize maximizing profits on the tradeable portion of its energy and as such allows the outcome of any simulation to take calculated and decisive steps that result in optimal profit, whilst adhering to project scope specifications.”

The group wrote that “AESOP supports pumped hydro, large-scale batteries, CAES [compressed air energy storage], gravity storage and flow batteries.” The Superhybrid is what the company calls “The innovative solution of incorporating AESOP with multiple green technologies including wind, solar and hydrogen production.”

The company said 500 jobs will be created during construction in Queensland, with 60 full-time workers across the pumped hydro and hydrogen generation facilities once the project commences. Sunshine Hydro said it has secured the land for the project and begun feasibility studies, with a plan to reach a final investment decision in 2025. That timeline would enable commissioning of the project in 2028.

The Burnett Mary Regional Group (BMRG) and other groups are providing land for the project, encompassing more than 7,400 acres. BMRG and Gidarjil Corp. will manage the land, with an eye toward biodiversity and conservation, according to the principals. Sheila Charlesworth, CEO of BMRG, said, “We are pleased to be part of this collaborative project that will see a reservoir on the property as part of a pumped-hydro facility which will assist in reaching zero carbon emissions, while also achieving conservation and biodiversity initiatives for our region and be available to provide emergency water supply for future bushfires.”

“Climate targets and destabilization of gas markets in Europe are driving a development boom in green hydrogen,” said Julie McLaughlin, managing director with Alvarez & Marsal’s U.S. Energy practice in San Francisco, California. McLaughlin specializes in renewable energy and has worked across 16 countries in North America, Latin America, Europe, and Asia.

McLaughlin told POWER, “The ability to convert renewable power into hydrogen has the potential to further decarbonize the electric grid while providing clean fuel for transportation. As announced by the company, Sunshine Hydro’s proposed Flavian Superhybrid combines a number of technologies in order to offer round-the-clock clean power as well as hydrogen for transportation. If Sunshine Hydro is successful in executing this megaproject, it could become a blueprint for how to think about the collocation of complementary technologies to achieve firm power output and clean transportation fuel.”

Sunshine Hydro said its first three Superhybrid projects in total will supply 660 MW of power generation and combined will be able to supply 200 metric tons per day of green hydrogen for both domestic use and export. Simon Currie, director of Sunshine Hydro and co-founder of Energy Estate, said, “Our goal at Energy Estate is to build upon the CQ region’s natural advantages so it continues to be Australia’s energy capital for generations to come. Superhybrids in the CQ region will enhance energy security and water security. Sunshine Hydro is leveraging software conceived and built here in Queensland to create new industries and support existing industrial users such as the aluminum smelter and alumina refineries.”

Company officials said the electricity supplied for the local grid “will be 100% green, balanced on an hour-by-hour basis.” Officials said the Flavian Superhybrid will also enhance water security for the region “by increasing the amount of stored water and increasing the capacity of the nearby desalination plant at Agnes Water.” The project’s other attributes include:

    ■ 600 MW of pumped hydro energy storage with 18 hours of operation at full capacity.
    ■ 300 MW of hydrogen generation.
    ■ 50 MW of liquefaction.
    ■ 50 MW of hydrogen fuel cells.
    ■ 1.8 GW of new wind generation.

Luke Sinclair, associated vice chancellor of Central Queensland University (CQUniversity), said, “Gladstone is ‘ground zero’ for the emerging clean energy economy and the announcement of the Superhybrid project is another exciting step in the right direction. CQUniversity is looking forward to working with Sunshine Hydro and other local partners in maximizing the value of this initiative to further grow Gladstone’s clean energy generation capacity and capabilities, and to open the door to smart training, education and research opportunities.”

Councillor Goodluck, acting mayor for the Gladstone City Council, said, “It’s fantastic to know that Sunshine Hydro will apply their unique, world-leading hydroelectricity techniques within our region following an assessment of many localities around Australia. This is a strong vote of confidence in our region’s ability to become a leader in sustainable energy investment and production. Gladstone Regional Council is an advocate for economic growth and diversification, and this announcement further emphasizes that we are on a path to becoming the green energy epicenter of Australia.”

Darrell Proctor is a senior associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).

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