Preparations are underway to break ground on a project to make green hydrogen to power trucks and produce sustainable farm fertiliser.

Ballance Agri-Nutrients and Hiringa Energy are planning to build four wind turbines in Taranaki as part of their green hydrogen project. The turbines will be built close to Ballance's ammonia plant and will generate electricity to both run the plant and produce hydrogen.

The resulting green hydrogen will be used by each partner, once the turbines are finished in 2023.

Ballance will use hydrogen in the plant to make ammonia, which converted to urea, used as a fertiliser vital to New Zealand farms and the production of food for dinner plates all over the world. The green hydrogen will allow Ballance to significantly reduce its environmental footprint, moving to renewable hydrogen and eliminating the same CO2 as taking 6000 cars off the road or by avoiding the import of 7000 tonnes of urea from the Middle East and Asia.

Hiringa Energy will use the remaining green hydrogen from Kapuni plant in a high-capacity refuelling network it is building, which will be filling the first hydrogen trucks in NZ from 2022.

Ballance Agri-Nutrients CEO, Mark Wynne, says "this flagship green hydrogen project is a collaboration of national significance."

"Working with Hiringa we have a truly unique opportunity to create a hydrogen ecosystem at Kapuni - powered by renewable energy - that we can grow and develop as a template for New Zealand's leadership in what is an exciting space globally."

The road ahead

A key challenge facing both urban and rural communities in Aotearoa is a reliance on fossil fuels for energy and food production.

"This project solves two issues at once," says Andrew Clennett, CEO of Hiringa Energy. "It's showing that we can decarbonise fertiliser manufacturing, which we need for food production, and also provides a scale that will help us start to produce low cost, green hydrogen or renewable hydrogen, for the heavy transport sector as well."

"What we're doing is to really provide a decarbonisation option for the parts of our country or the parts of industry that are really hard to decarbonise with electricity alone."

With New Zealand's agricultural sector often coming under fire for a perceived "lack of action" in addressing the environmental challenges of greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel usage, the project represents the industry's commitment to impactful and meaningful action on these issues. "This project represents real leadership and action," Clennett says.

For commercial and heavy transport - hydrogen is a zero-emission solution that enables high availability, payloads, and range. A hydrogen fuel cell truck can refuel in 10 to 15 minutes and travel over 600 kilometres. Each truck takes the equivalent of 150 cars' emissions off the road.

The project is also an innovative way to reduce New Zealand's reliance on imported urea, often manufactured using non-renewable energy sources, by increasing security of domestic supply.

"Our farming community is constantly adapting and evolving, to ensure we continue to thrive in the years ahead. We'll be able to see hydrogen-powered trucks that take the more sustainably produced urea to farms around New Zealand."

Wynne agrees, "We're thrilled to be able to bring this opportunity forward for our farmer-shareholders, for Taranaki, and for New Zealand - to create a renewable hydrogen energy hub that could enable deep cuts in emissions from our heavy transport fleets and also produce a greener nutrient source to help keep New Zealand growing."

These four wind turbines being built near New Zealand's only ammonia plant, Clennett says, represent the farming and heavy transport sectors working together in new ways to bring down emissions in two of New Zealand's most carbon intensive sectors.

"In a nutshell, the green hydrogen project at Kapuni, developed in partnership between Ballance and Hiringa Energy, represents a key step forward for the agricultural sector, and heavy transport industry, towards a sustainable future."

"This is the only place we can do this. We need the ammonia plant to provide the baseload demand for our generation, and the hydrogen refuelling network to provide the scale."

The ultimate goal, he says, is to support New Zealand's transition to a zero emission, hydrogen-based heavy-transport network.

Clennett expects the project will be of even wider benefit, in accelerating New Zealand's transition away from fossil fuels, and providing a foundation for a hydrogen market in New Zealand.

"Combined, Ballance and Hiringa are creating something better than the sum of parts."

The initiative has also attracted strong international interest and investment from Japanese trading house Mitsui & Co who have partnered with Hiringa to accelerate green hydrogen opportunities in New Zealand.

Soaking it up

With a total output capacity of 24.8mW, the turbines will generate the renewable electricity required to enable industrial-scale production of green hydrogen via the project's electrolyser plant.

Clennett likens hydrogen production to a sponge, soaking up excess wind generation that is not needed to run the plant. "Effectively, it's a battery, it's storage, so we can make it when there is excess wind and use it at a later time."

In particularly windy west coast weather, excess generation can be transferred into the grid. The plant can be turned off instantly and total production directed to help prop up the national grid. Increasing the renewable electricity supply and providing demand management for the grid helps increase the renewable penetration in our electricity mix.

It also has the ability to supply the whole capacity during peak periods. During peak wind conditions, the turbines will produce enough wind to power 25,000 homes when exporting to the grid.

The key Taranaki project has been made possible with the help of a $19.9 million Government investment via Kānoa - Regional Economic Development & Investment Unit, granted from the Provincial Growth Fund in early 2020, with the goal of supporting the region and its people in a just transition to a low carbon economy,

Clennett says the Taranaki region has embraced the project as it transitions away fossil fuel production. "It really does show the region that we can fundamentally shift to becoming our vision to be the place where you produce the greenest molecules in the world. This is just one of the first really important steps in that transition. It's pretty exciting."

Read more about the green hydrogen project here.

Ballance is a New Zealand farmer-owned co-operative, supporting Kiwis to farm productively, profitably and sustainably.