Glimpses of a low carbon future amid Port Kembla’s coal and metal


For South Coast Labour Council secretary Arthur Rorris, intensifying debate over what a low-carbon future could imply for Australia’s industrial centres is a sign the remainder of the nation could lastly have caught up with the Illawarra.

Standing beneath a towering smokestack at Port Kembla’s BlueScope steelworks final week, Rorris says the area’s unions concluded in 2009 that local weather change was taking place and that there was only one query they wanted to reply.

‘It’s going to be large’ if the steelworks have been to shut: Arthur Rorris, co-convener of Recharge Illawarra, at Bluescope’s services at Port Kembla.Credit score:Janie Barrett


“That’s whether or not we’re going to share within the jobs created by the approaching revolution, ” he says. “Or will we stand on the sidelines and watch the remainder of the world take them?”

Typically not noted of discussions a few so-called transition off fossil fuels, the realm round Wollongong hosts the nation’s largest steelworks, fed by coal mined in a hinterland that additionally consists of a number of dams serving better Sydney.

Boasting a deepwater port and heavy trade with two centuries of heritage, the Illawarra rivals the NSW Hunter and Victoria’s Latrobe Valley as a area with essentially the most at stake – and maybe most to achieve – if Australia can do its share of the decarbonisation wanted to curb world heating. To this point, there isn’t a nationwide effort to steer such a shift.

“If metal goes, overlook the city,” Rorris says. “It’s going to be large.”

The long run, although, will not be as gritty because the previous and current. Throughout the transport canal, not removed from the place Rorris stands, preparations are below approach for a fuel and probably hydrogen processing web site being developed by billionaire Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest.


Nonetheless, navigating from the identified will want extra braveness and co-ordination than is at the moment on show.

Take BlueScope’s steelworks, which produce about 3.2 million tonnes of the steel a 12 months over a sprawling campus that has 4 railway stations and its personal postcode. It generates about 1 per cent of the state’s financial output and one-tenth of the Illawarra’s.

The corporate earned $1.2 billion in its newest monetary 12 months, a 13-fold improve on a 12 months earlier. BlueScope plans to pour $800 million into relining a standard blast furnace, and has declared will probably be a “quick follower” slightly than a pacesetter within the rising “inexperienced metal” trade that substitutes hydrogen for coking coal.

A BlueScope worker sits at the front of one of the company’s “torpedoes”, a wagon that takes 180 tonnes of molten iron per tube from the blast furnace to a steel-processing plant.

A BlueScope employee sits on the entrance of one of many firm’s “torpedoes”, a wagon that takes 180 tonnes of molten iron per tube from the blast furnace to a steel-processing plant.Credit score:Janie Barrett

Chris Web page, head of future applied sciences and a 28-year BlueScope veteran, doesn’t suppose the menace is imminent. Sweden’s HYBRIT, which final month claimed to have produced the world’s first coal-free metal, took three months to make 100 tonnes of it, he says.


Though modest on a worldwide scale, the Port Kembla web site alone makes about 8000 tonnes of metal a day.

“We’ve obtained to learn to use hydrogen,” Web page says. “That’s why the timeframe is a long time, not months.”

The corporate plans to spend $150 million over 5 years to chop greenhouse fuel emissions, however solely on the annual charge of 1 per cent to 2030.

Nonetheless, extra proximate challenges for Illawarra’s workforce and even BlueScope may come from disruptions to the area’s coal provides.

Opposition to the extraction of the fossil gasoline has been rising not solely from local weather change activists but additionally these fearing long-term injury to Larger Sydney’s water catchment from mine subsidence.

Climate change activists (from left) Naia Webb, Claire Rogers, and Tatianna Hatzopoulos, outside Russell Vale colliery near Wollongong, which has received approval to expand underground mining.

Local weather change activists (from left) Naia Webb, Claire Rogers, and Tatianna Hatzopoulos, outdoors Russell Vale colliery close to Wollongong, which has obtained approval to increase underground mining. Credit score:Janie Barrett

Federal Atmosphere Minister Sussan Ley ignored these worries solely this month when she accredited Wollongong Coal’s plan to reopen its Russell Vale colliery so it may extract 3.7 million tonnes of coal over 5 years.

A panel outdoors the mine notes European colonists first recognized the uncovered gasoline in a close-by rock face when shipwrecked sailors stumbled ashore in 1797 at what they promptly if unimaginatively named Coalcliff.

Naia Webb, a 20-year-old regulation and artistic arts scholar, and a member of the Illawarra Local weather Coalition, says her grandfather had labored in coal mines. Even so, their days needs to be numbered.

“You might be pleased with your historical past and all that, but additionally recognise that it’s not the long run and now we have to maneuver on,” Webb says, earlier than unveiling a protest poster as vehicles rumble out and in of the Russell Vale pit web site as preparations for a reopening collect tempo.

An aerial view of the mine head at Wollongong Coal, where preparations to reopen the Russell Vale mine are gathering pace.

An aerial view of the mine head at Wollongong Coal, the place preparations to reopen the Russell Vale mine are gathering tempo.Credit score:Janie Barrett

Excessive pay for some mine employee make the roles “crazily interesting”, she says, including, although, that these jobs might be solely short-lived if local weather motion goes to be severe.


“It is vital that we shield our area people from being left behind on this world transition away from coal,” Webb says.

One other close by battle over coal is brewing. In February, NSW’s Unbiased Planning Fee rejected plans by ASX-listed South32 to increase the Dendrobium mine out to 2048, citing its potential to “considerably affect” the water catchment among the many causes.

The $956 million undertaking would have created jobs however the additional 78 million tonnes of coal would even have resulted in about 250 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent (CO2-e).

Kaye Osborn from Defend Our Water Alliance says Sydney’s Particular Areas “are off-limits to the general public to guard them from degradation and contamination. They need to be off limits to extractive industries additionally”.

“Larger Sydney is the most important metropolis within the driest inhabited continent on earth and but we’re the one metropolis that enables coal mining this near its water storages,” she says, noting Dendrobium’s proximity to Avon and Cordeaux reservoirs.

South32 has launched a judicial overview of the IPC verdict within the NSW Land and Atmosphere Courtroom, whereas additionally assessing choices to revise its mine plan.

A spokesman stated: “The Dendrobium Mine Extension Challenge obtained widespread assist from neighborhood, authorities and trade all through the approvals course of. We have now an extended historical past of working safely and responsibly within the Illawarra area and the proposed [extension] would supply main financial and social advantages for the Illawarra area and NSW.”

The mine offers an vital supply of coal for BlueScope however the IPC additionally famous South 32 had opted to prioritise digging coal from the Bulli seam, pushing again the Wongawilli mix sought by the steelmaker to 2043. The Planning fee stated: “The fee doesn’t settle for the instructed dependence of BlueScope Steelworks on ongoing entry to the Wongawilli Seam Coal from this Challenge.″⁣

Web page says: “If Dendrobium doesn’t rise up, past about 2025 we’ll have to take a look at different provides.″⁣

Lecturers, although, are usually not impressed by BlueScope’s emissions-cutting ambitions, which run at about 10.5 million tonnes CO2-e a 12 months.

Says Australian Nationwide College School of Engineering affiliate professor John Pye: “That call to construct a brand new blast furnace is a fork in that street’s School of Engineering. It doesn’t appear they will be on the facet of pushing it as quick as attainable”, as solely about 15 per cent discount is feasible with restricted hydrogen use.

As Europe plans its carbon border adjustment mechanism to place a tax on metal imports from nations with weak local weather insurance policies by 2030, inexperienced metal could get extra world impetus. Pye says: “It’s going to offer everybody a kick alongside.″⁣

BlueScope’s No.5 blast furnace. The company is betting existing technology has a few decades to run.

BlueScope’s No.5 blast furnace. The corporate is betting current expertise has a number of a long time to run.Credit score:Janie Barrett

College of Wollongong’s Vitality Futures Community director Ty Christopher says hydrogen isn’t the one different for BlueScope to ditch coal.


“There are alternate options to using coking coal which can be much less carbon-intensive and that don’t require mining. Using biochar is a type of applied sciences,” he says. “It’s the main target of our analysis in the intervening time and it’s at a crucial stage.”

Politicians from each main events perceive that change within the Illawarra is inevitable.

NSW Vitality Minister Matt Kean says: “You’ve obtained to diversify the economies within the Illawarra and the Hunter.″⁣

Each areas have a aggressive benefit to develop a hydrogen-based financial system, together with “a pure use for it”, given their heavy trade, ports and an obtainable expert workforce, he says.

“Each the Hunter and the Illawarra are poised to turn into inexperienced hydrogen manufacturing and export powerhouses, which is why they’ve been declared the primary hydrogen hubs in NSW.”

NSW Energy Minister Matt Kean says the government will release its hydrogen strategy soon to try to ensure investors pick places like the Illawarra in the future.

NSW Vitality Minister Matt Kean says the federal government will launch its hydrogen technique quickly to strive to make sure buyers choose locations just like the Illawarra sooner or later.Credit score:Dominic Lorrimer

Kean says he held latest talks with Forrest, together with on the prospect of growing large renewable vitality crops within the Wagga Wagga area to energy a inexperienced hydrogen manufacturing course of within the Illawarra.

The federal government has additionally dedicated $70 million from its Web-Zero Trade and Innovation Program for hydrogen within the Illawarra and the Hunter. That dietary supplements the $78 million NSW has tipped right into a $300 million Tallawarra B fuel plant growth by EnergyAustralia in order that it might take not less than 200 tonnes of inexperienced hydrogen yearly from 2025.


Kean says: “We’re at the moment finalising our Hydrogen Technique, which is able to put NSW in pole place to provide and export one of the crucial crucial applied sciences wanted to achieve web zero by 2050, inexperienced hydrogen.″⁣

Forrest’s Squadron Vitality unit, in the meantime, is engaged on a 635MW Port Kembla energy station that may initially burn fuel imported at a brand new terminal with the intention of changing solely to hydrogen produced with renewables by 2030.

Squadron says, noting the plant goals to start working by 2023-24 after it secured so-called Vital State Important Infrastructure from the state authorities final month: “It’s hoped the potential demand for inexperienced hydrogen from the Port Kembla energy station will assist drive the event of a brand new trade within the Illawarra..

Paul Scully, state Labor MP for Wollongong and a former chief working officer of the Australian Institute for Revolutionary Supplies on the College of Wollongong, says that “simply because the financial system evolves, steelmaking should evolve, too”.

Labor MP Paul Scully

Labor MP Paul ScullyCredit score:Janie Barrett


Three a long time in the past, his former college had 3000 college students and BlueScope had 20,000 employees. Now, pre-COVID, the college counted 36,000 home and worldwide college students and BlueScope has 3000 direct staff.

The Illawarra’s life-style may additionally lure residents who would possibly in any other case choose Penrith or Camden in Sydney’s western and southern fringes to shell out for the same $750,000 first dwelling. “[Here], you’re 10 minutes to the seaside,” Scully says.

The federal government expanded its renewable vitality zones to incorporate the Illawarra partly due to urging by Labor.

One investor within the wings is Oceanex Vitality chief government officer Andy Evans. His firm is eyeing three wind farm tasks off the NSW coast, together with a $10 billion two-gigawatt undertaking to be positioned about 20 to 30 kilometres east of Wollongong.

BlueScope employees (from left) Chris Page, Michael Reay, and Craig Nealon walk past part of the blast furnace operating at Port Kembla.

BlueScope staff (from left) Chris Web page, Michael Reay, and Craig Nealon stroll previous a part of the blast furnace working at Port Kembla.Credit score:Janie Barrett

Evans says of the Illawarra, given its vitality demand and its proximity to a serious transmission line: “You virtually couldn’t script it any higher for offshore wind.″⁣

The corporate goals to tether greater than 100 floating generators of 15-megawatt capability every with blade heights reaching 200 metres.

“We’ve sought to scale back any visibility,” says Evans, who predicts the generators will seem solely as “small dots” on the horizon.

Considerably, the steel-hungry wind towers may use 35 to 65 per cent native content material, probably creating a serious new buyer for BlueScope.


Ken Baldwin, a physics professor and director of ANU’s Grand Problem: Zero-Carbon Vitality for the Asia-Pacific, says the Illawarra just isn’t assured an enormous position in renewables.

“You need to ask, what’s the competitors?” Baldwin says. The Pilbara, with “the sheer economies of scale” of its wealthy photo voltaic and wind assets, is a serious different for a hydrogen manufacturing hub. Western NSW, too, might be a robust rival if transmission hyperlinks are constructed.

Nonetheless, the Illawarra does supply an ecosystem with the present know-how and infrastructure that might be aggressive if companies and governments pull in the identical route.

The challenges level “to a task for governments as industries shift and alter”, Baldwin says. “[They] can corral particular person gamers in the best mixture. That’s an vital position.

“We don’t desire a repeat of the economic revolution, throughout which governments did nothing for planning and co-ordination,” he says. “The rust belts [in the US and elsewhere] are a microcosm and an instance of what can go improper.”


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