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Hydrogen Interview Series

Joshua Carmichael

Joshua Carmichael Vice President - Hydrogen Wood

Josh has more than a decade experience in the renewable energy field and is considered a leader in both the renewable energy and transport sectors. He has advised some of the world’s largest corporations and governments and delivered key global projects and policies for both hydrogen and large-scale grid batteries in Asia Pac, Europe and Africa. An executive leader with project experience, he can bring his commercial, technical, supply chain and policy experiences to unlock complex problems in the project with the core team.

Exclusive Interview with Wood


Read the written interview

Q1. There is a lot of interest in hydrogen currently. As an organization involved in each stage of the Lifecyle, how do you see a hydrogen economy being formed in practical terms?

For those that don't know, Wood is a leading consulting and engineering company across energy and built environments and hoping to unlock a lot of the solutions to the world's most critical challenge that we face. I think most people can agree that hydrogen going forward is one of those topics and will be critical, but also requires a lot of different expertise to unlock those solutions. We as a company provide consoling projects and operations, as a firm, our major focus in hydrogen is to enable this transition with our clients and partners.

On hydrogen, so as far as I see it, there are three phases. First is the production of hydrogen, that's basically where you make it. And here we talk about the different colors from green, blue, and grey, and others. Second is the storage and distribution. So how you move it, and that will depend on where you sit in the market and the region, where you can be electrolyzing, electricity, or gas networks, or ammonia, for example. And then third, how we use it. And in those cases, it could be that it is going into an industrial user or a household. It could be as ammonia for fertilizers, or bunk storage, or it could be gas into a network or even electricity. So those are the kind of the three phases as I would see it, and the opportunities are endless, because we've got the expertise and experiences across all of those areas.

Q2. And where, for Wood, is the biggest opportunity?

If you had to pinpoint the biggest opportunity, I think if I look at the first phase. Here we’re actually a leader in the steam methane reforming technology SMR, which is considered if we look at the columns from grey a number of years of experience in this it's actually how today hydrogen is primarily produced. In that area, we can help clients.

Going forward, if you look at the green hydrogen for electrolyzers requires a lot of water networks, this type of stuff, feed consulting, and in the blue area, gas and gas networks that brittleness the ability to handle the transfer of gas from its gas form into liquid or electricity, these are all areas of expertise for Wood. In that first phase, but also down the chain to work with others. We have signed several collaborations, an MOU with electrolyzer companies and others, which haven't been announced, where we can start to look at the project development and the offtake scenario downstream as well as a partner. So, those would be the kind of the key areas for Wood were we can be of use.

Q3. Can low carbon and green hydrogen be deployed and scaled-up quickly enough to reach net zero targets by 2050 or earlier and what are the main challenges?

The answer is definitely yes, and there are definitely challenges. From what I've learned in my experience, first with large-scale utility, batteries, and later also with renewables and electric and fuel cell buses, in the beginning there is always a hesitation around technical and commercial technical isn't up to scratch doesn't work.

And commercial, the numbers do not always stack up. There's certainly not enough scale, particularly for green hydrogen. This is the case today, where hydrogen is up against batteries in transport, but also against gas in electricity generation. So, I think technical and commercial, it's got some areas of improvements in cost and scale. It needs a lot of regulation policy changes. Funding an investment from private and public sources for this to get traction. And there, I think there need to be some new classes that have been developed, you see, in Rotterdam, Hamburg, these areas where a whole range of producers of the energy and the end-users come together to get the projects out in a large way in a scale, to drive down those costs of both the supply of the fuel, and also to increase the demand so that we can get over this catch 22 situation that it now sees itself in.

Q4. You mentioned the comparison with batteries. What can hydrogen learn in the battery industry in the coming years?

There’s been a couple of key takeaways from there for me.

We learned a lot from the 100-megawatt battery project we did in South Australia. And at that time, there was a leading graph produced by a consultant, that showed energy storage across the number of megawatts in size and duration in hours and days. At that time, batteries were only seen as a few minutes or maybe 1030 megawatts worth of energy storage. We did the project of 100 megawatts in less than three months with our partners, Hornsdale Power Reserve, and Tesla. Everyone came to the table, and we overcame a lot of the obstacles, policy, regulation, operating procedures, commercial, all of this were overcome in a short timeframe.

What the battery industry did, which was they made it known that maybe they were down in the bottom left quadrants for energy storage, but they were there for energy stability, they were there for frequency control. And that is what the project's achieved and introduce competition into the frequency control market, which is also a source of irritation as part of the energy transition as we go forward. It has grown from there to be a larger source of energy over several hours into the hundreds of megawatt-hours.

I think hydrogen needs to make that step where it needs to change from getting confused about what color the generation is. Yes, that’s important to understand where the hydrogen is coming from through certificates of origin that have been developed in Europe and Australia. But irrespective of the color, how are we going to deploy this infrastructure at scale for the end-users that are going to need this source of fuel, electricity or whatever it might be? If you start with the benefits of hydrogen for the grid and the benefits of hydrogen for the gas networks narrative, then prioritise this going forward so investors understand exactly what they are buying into when they start putting an enormous amount of CAPEX into these projects.

Q5. The pace of change that you touched upon is phenomenal, with new technologies and projects are announced almost daily, along with a growing number of players entering the market, how are Wood positioning themselves to stay ahead of the market?

I think we can support or work alongside and lead clients with this kind of strategic insight and technology solutions that we already have, whether it is through SMR, or partnerships with electrolyzer companies that I mentioned. But it also starts to look like as the industry develops, and new players come in, that the industry is ripe for investment for several different players for different reasons.

So private equity and asset infrastructure owners, want to make these investments for reasons that were probably different to five years ago. We can also play a leading role in really looking at those partnership models, those consortiums and project delivery models in each region Australia, Europe, the US, and UK. These types of markets and bringing that to the table with the governments and the connections that we already have as a leading figure in oil and gas and the renewable sector of wind and solar and now, increasingly, energy storage around hydrogen, and eventually batteries.

Q6. And then on the demand side, which applications do you see making up the demand for hydrogen? And which applications are you most excited by?

In terms of demand, it depends on where you sit geographically as well as in the value chain. For example, the Japanese and Korean markets are huge importers of energy. So, they would love to see hydrogen come in in the cheapest way possible, and that might be as ammonia or liquid hydrogen, for example, for electricity use or into gas turbines in the Japanese market.

At the same time, investment companies in the projects in Australia and Europe are also Japanese, and Korean companies, and gas providers as well, so the demand is broad. It is going to be everything from looking at the electrolyzer versus the gas, carbon capture storage in the gas networks and electricity, it's ammonia for storage, and export as it is liquid hydrogen as well. And in the end, the commercial side will dictate as much as the technical on what will be the winning formula.

And you asked what excites me, I am an avid fan of aviation, I've always loved it. So for me, the sustainable aviation fuel surface is an interesting area. I’d also love to see that kind of convergence between transport and energy come to the fold in the same way that electric has been successful with batteries. I'd love to see hydrogen be a real player in that convergence with the heavy fuel trucks, ports, ships, these types of areas. So that for me, is what excites me.

Q7. Final thoughts and comments from our audience will read, will hydrogen reach those big global ambitions? Any will those net-zero targets be achieved with a hydrogen economy?

The answer is absolutely yes, and for me that the reason is glowingly clear. If I look at, for example, the automotive industry, for a long time we had hybrid models, then dieselgate happened and all of a sudden we had EVs. When you had in a single week Shell being told by a judge that their emissions were not sufficient by 2030, Exxon Mobil had activist shareholders come on the board, the companies that are going to be responsible for the deployment and the offtake of hydrogen are the ones most in scrutiny and under pressure from shareholders to do something.

Not all sectors can be electrified, and there hydrogen has a real role to play as well. There are a lot of people vested in the success of hydrogen, and therefore it will reach the scale required on a global level.

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