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Dr Andrew Forrest AO delivers speech at Clean Energy Council summit

Dr Andrew Forrest AO

Speech 18 August 2021

Last week, I visited Fortescue’s Green Team industrialising the huge energy and industry company I founded 18 years ago to entirely renewable green energy.

Even though, as Founder and Chairman, I can exert considerable influence over Fortescue Metals Group, it took a long while to get the entire company on board that we can and therefore must be entirely green by 2030.

A little over 130 days ago, some of the best and brightest in our team were empowered with technology, logistics, and capital to commence this journey.

Last week, I bore witness to their efforts. Instead of the huge clouds of smoke and noise I am used to when major equipment starts, like haul trucks and bulk trains – I was greeted with silence, which I thought was the sound of the future. And no smoke. The vision of the future. I became only the third person in the world to drive a hydrogen fuel cell haul truck, which operated at least as well as its diesel-driven predecessor, whilst witnessing also ammonia firing train engines and ship engines.

130 days.

That’s all it took for these massive technical breakthroughs to happen in my company.

I must admit, the scale of their achievement made me emotional, and I hope my colleagues thought it was just dust causing my eyes to water. However, the other primary driver for my upwelling was the wonderment that this had not happened earlier, years if not decades earlier.

If we could transform how, we power such huge machines, as trucks, trains, and ships, as well as massive heavy industry like Fortescue, in such a short time, why had this not been done before? How did we do it?

Targets.

Targets are the major success driver of a workforce and leadership in any project. The achievements I bore witness to last week were the result of an incredible June 30 stretch target.

The other is, of course, government policy and public support. Without that guiding hand, there was simply no reason to change our fossil fuel burning course. There now is.

Australia turning Net Zero will involve a number of very large economic and employment growth driven projects. Each, to be successful – will need to be driven by targets. Net Zero for Australia is simply one big project – a compilation of national and state projects, driven by business who are the most motivated. As Paul Keating quotes, ‘In the race of life, always back self-interest — at least you know it’s trying’.

To crystalise that motive, the nation needs a target.

While renewable green hydrogen is not the only answer to get us to Net Zero, it will make the biggest difference and allow the Australian Government to confidently state a national target of 2050. Giving us that target allows success to be driven by business. And I for one will work tirelessly to lead that change.

We are in a race to save the environment as we know it. A race to Net Zero. That’s why COP26 in Glasgow in November will be so important for the world. This is our last chance to slow then stop the planet cooking.

I am not in the doomsday business; I’m an optimist, and I am in the solutions business.

My answer is renewable Green Hydrogen.

Many of you know me from the iron ore company, Fortescue.

You may not know Fortescue has a relatively unheard-of giant-in-the-making, called Fortescue Future Industries – or FFI.

As impossible as it sounds, green hydrogen is a 100% carbon free fuel, made from water.

You want to power a plane using renewables? The electricity could be generated by wind, solar or hydropower. But the weight of the batteries required to store enough power means the plane would never be able to fly.

By using renewable energy to produce green hydrogen you create a fuel that can meet all the world’s energy needs – from planes, to factories, to entire countries.

FFI will produce 15 million tonnes per annum of renewable green hydrogen by 2030, increasing to 50 million tonnes per annum thereafter – a scale equal to the very largest oil and gas companies today.

We’ve secured agreements with countries all over the world to develop significant renewable energy sources to produce renewable green hydrogen. We will also aggressively pursue projects across Australia and develop renewable energy at an unprecedented scale.

FFI has over AU$1.1 billion, and no debt. It is a renewable green hydrogen company, plus green ammonia and green products, and they will all come together to finally crack the code to decarbonising heavy industry, including our own.

It’s a plan we’ve been thinking about for ten years, working on for four, and gone into overdrive over two years ago.

Today, I want to talk to you about FFI and how green hydrogen is the only true type of clean energy.

I want to show you how we will make Australia a clean energy world superpower and how this helps not just Australia, but the world.

We all need to see this done by 2050, but in truth, it must be done much earlier.

By 2030, it must be apparent that Australia and the world has turned the corner.

I don’t stand before you today pretending, I am not a polluter. I stand here humbly to say, we are doing everything we can to go green at rapid speed and to lead others by example, and supply them with the energy to do so, too. I am deeply passionate about stopping climate change and will do everything within my power to be part of the solution.

The answer isn’t to stop mining iron ore, which is critical to the production of steel, and to humanity. The answer is green zero-emissions energy – to make all iron ore and steel. Every day the sun shines, the wind blows, rivers flow and the Earth’s core radiates heat, we waste green energy in proportions that dwarf the energy produced by the entire global oil and gas sector. If these renewable energy resources were a power station, it would be millions of gigawatts in size.

To put that into perspective, in 2020 China produced all its electricity from 2200 gigawatts of power. In Australia, we produce all our electricity from just 70 gigawatts of power.

Our greatest natural resource isn’t iron ore, it isn’t gold, it isn’t gas, it’s certainly not oil or coal, it is green hydrogen. Hydrogen is by far the most common element of the universe. We aren’t going to run out of it anytime soon. It makes up 75% of the mass of the universe. To make it, all you need to do is run electricity through water. When that electricity is from 100 per cent renewable electricity, the result is green hydrogen, the only clean source of energy in the world, and one that could replace up to 75% of our emissions, if we had the technology and the scale today. Let’s work on that.

But right now, what do we do with hydrogen? Well, many treat it as just an ingredient in various industrial processes, not as an energy source. It is made from burning fossil fuels, quaintly called “grey hydrogen” to hide the fact it’s a pollutant.

The green hydrogen market could create revenues of US$12 trillion by 2050, way more than any industry that exists today. Even Australia’s enormous iron ore sector, which has an export revenue of more than AU$150 billion, is barely one-100th of this.

Through FFI, we will build Australia into the renewable green hydrogen superpower of the world. The scale of projects we have planned in Australia are immense and within our capabilities, driving massive new investment and employment while turning Australia green. It will put Australia at the forefront of technical and energy leadership.

The task is enormous, but so is the problem.

Of course, we know none of this will be easy and that there will be some that will try to slow this progress.

While I understand the self-interest driving this, for the purpose of extending the life of their production assets, it will never be in the interest of a sustainable future for this to go unchallenged.

We do not have time to invest precious attention and resources into false solutions, and I fear this distraction will undermine the global effort for real renewable green hydrogen.

The oil and gas sector is preying on public hope, and the political opportunism this allows – by allowing the colours of the rainbow and calling it clean hydrogen, which of course, being made from fossil fuels, it is anything but.

Blue, grey, pink, yellow hydrogen is not renewable green hydrogen.

They are made from fossil fuels, which studies now confirm are more carbon emitting than if they were simply burnt as fossil fuels.

This is an extension of the earlier argument – still swallowed by most politicians – that hydrogen is a ridiculous fuel as it is more carbon emitting than sticking to what we have. They are right, of course, if the source of your electricity to make hydrogen is still fossil fuel.

This argument falls apart when the source of the hydrogen is permanent renewable energy, and that is why the fossil fuel sector has flipped to introducing a colour code and the new term “clean hydrogen”.

This has as much accuracy as “clean coal” or “healthy smoking”.

And don’t get me started on the smokescreen of sequestration.

The most recent argument that hydrogen made from fossil fuel whose carbon emissions have attempted to be sequestered – buried in the ground – is “the new green”, is false. Regardless of the success of the sequestration – it normally fails, there are huge carbon emissions emitted in its process.

If it is not renewable green, don’t be fooled by any other colour coded spin.

Any other colour than renewable green is dirty hydrogen.

In the coming weeks, months, and years, it will be critical to guard against allowing those with vested interests to draw out a long transition period using fossil fuel hydrocarbons to produce hydrogen. There is another way – a truly renewable green way.

The IPCC report confirms the window for action is closing and the time to accelerate to zero is now.

COP26 in November is a critical opportunity for Australia – and the world – to show leadership.

We must show the world we are a nation of doers, innovators, and green energy leaders.

FFI will create thousands of jobs and significant economic growth for Australia and the world. The scale of projects we’ve planned in Australia is immense and within our proven capabilities. But what is the cost of not acting now? Deloitte puts the answer at a loss of around $3.4 trillion in economic growth. A loss none of us can afford.

This is a clear-cut economic choice, beyond the science.

With the power of the renewable green hydrogen industry being driven at rapid speed by us, and working in collaboration with the Australian Government, we can meet a net zero target by 2050.

Change takes courage. And that must be encouraged by our society. We must be prepared to fail in pursuit of improvement, or we as individuals, or as societies, and as a nation will stagnate.

I’m accustomed to fear, I feel it as much as anyone else. But my job is to persevere. Eighteen years ago, I was just a young upstart trying to set up Fortescue. Everyone told me I was crazy to take on BHP and Rio Tinto.

And l do not underestimate the challenge here. The fossil fuel sector will react to increasingly competitive green hydrogen by slashing the cost of oil and gas until it’s almost zero. There will be very tough moments.

But that is what drives us every day at FFI.

We are NOT the ones waiting.

At FFI, we have our targets.

For our nation, let’s have our target.

Net zero 2050 Australia, let’s make it happen.