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University of Otago chemistry professor Sally Brooker also said reported talks between New Zealand officials and Fortescue Metals Group chairman Andrew Forrest, about fitting Tiwai Point into his post-fossil fuel plans, promised nothing new from ideas for the future use of the site already being investigated.
While the Australian billionaire’s interest in the aluminium smelter made headlines recently, Tiwai Point was not necessarily going to be part of New Zealand’s hydrogen future, she said.
"I would take it as a promising sign, but I am no economist, or industrialist," Prof Brooker said.
"Tiwai is complicated because we don’t know if they will continue to make aluminium there — they may."
The bottom line was that New Zealand must invest heavily in new renewable electricity generation "and do it right now", she said.
Green hydrogen, produced using renewable energy, was an established option that could be put in place now, she said.
Just as battery research improved efficiencies of electric vehicles, research would improve efficiencies for green hydrogen. But that was not necessary before it was employed, she said.
Green hydrogen was a valued chemical commodity as countries shifted to low carbon economies.
It was essential to carbon-friendly fertiliser production, which used hydrogen produced from fossil fuels, known as brown hydrogen.
Green steel production, instead of the current brown steel, was increasingly important, she said.
Prof Brooker, with University of Canterbury chemical and process engineering Associate Prof Aaron Marshall, is at the forefront of a New Zealand push for German research and investment in New Zealand.
Prof Brooker said the decision on the funding to support the development of a German-New Zealand Green Hydrogen Research Centre, based at Otago, had been slowed by Covid-19’s effects in Germany.
But the application was through to the final round, so things were looking promising and a decision was expected in June.
Several other research funding applications were in progress as well, Prof Brooker said.