Andrew Forrest, whose high-risk and decades-long dedication to iron ore has made him one of Australia’s most-recognised businessmen, has announced a string of projects that confirm his ambitions to diversify into clean energy.

Over five days in early October, Forrest’s clean energy company Fortescue Future Industries declared:

  • it will build the world’s largest electrolyser and renewable energy equipment factory in Queensland;
  • it is partnering with fertiliser supplier Incitec Pivot to study conversion of a Brisbane ammonia-production facility to green hydrogen from natural gas, and
  • that it had bought 60% of Dutch solar company High yield Energy Technologies Group, or HyET.

The proposal for a factory in Gladstone, the departure point for most of the nation’s liquified natural gas exports, is the most significant of Forrest’s plans for Fortescue Future Industries, or FFI.

“This initiative is a critical step in Fortescue’s transition from a highly successful pure play iron ore producer to an even more successful green renewables and resources powerhouse,” Forrest said of the Gladstone plant.

Build it here

FFI’s Global Green Energy Manufacturing Centre (GEM) will include production lines for the manufacture of wind turbines, long-range electric cabling, solar PV cells, electrolysers and all the associated infrastructure.

The first stage of the six-stage project will establish Australia’s first multi-gigawatt-scale electrolyser factory, starting at 2GW per annum or more than double current global production levels.

The company says its total plant investment could exceed $1 billion as demand for electrolysers rises. The initial electrolyser investment is expected to be up to $114 million, with the first electrolysers scheduled for production in early 2023.

FFI’s own requirements for equipment will underwrite GEM’s initial growth and construction will begin in February 2022, pending final approvals.

“FFI’s goal is to become the world’s leading integrated, fully renewable energy and green products company, powering the Australian economy and creating jobs for Australia as we transition away from fossil fuels,” said FFI chief executive officer Julie Shuttleworth.

Help from hydrogen

The project with Incitec Pivot, Australia’s largest fertiliser supplier, will look at converting an ammonia-production facility at Gibson Island in Brisbane to run on hydrogen manufactured using renewable energy sources. Currently, the facility uses natural gas as a feedstock.

FFI also plans to construct an on-site electrolysis plant to produce up to 50,000 tonnes of green hydrogen a year for conversion into green ammonia, which could also provide a low-carbon fuel supply to the Port of Brisbane and Brisbane Airport.

“If feasible, this project would sustain highly skilled manufacturing jobs at Gibson Island and allow us to leverage our existing capabilities and assets to create a thriving renewable hydrogen ecosystem in Australia in the near term,” said Incitec Pivot managing director Jeanne Johns.

FFI is committed to generating 15 million tonnes of green hydrogen a year by 2030, rising to 50 million tonnes by 2040. While FFI’s green hydrogen will supply both domestic and export markets, it will also enable Fortescue to achieve its industry-leading target of carbon neutrality by 2030.

Solar stakes

Apart from FFI’s acquisition of 60% of Dutch-based High yield Energy Technologies (HyET) Group the company also provided the majority share of financing for the expansion of HyET Solar’s Dutch Solar PV factory.

“The addition of HyET Solar and HyET Hydrogen to our portfolio of FFI companies builds on our commitment to develop technologies needed to tackle emissions and global warming,” said Shuttleworth. “HyET Hydrogen’s technology will support FFI in reducing costs in other areas of the green hydrogen supply chain.”

The company is planning a 1GW plant in Australia to manufacture HyET’s lightweight Powerfoil solar solution, which claims 7% efficiency.

For Forrest, the deals all point in one direction. “Green energies need to be available at an industrial, global scale,” he said. “We don’t have time to wait, we have to act now.”