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Morrison’s tech roadmap flags more investment in carbon capture and storage

The Morrison government will identify “clean” hydrogen, energy storage, “low-carbon” steel and aluminium, carbon capture and storage and soil carbon as priority technologies slated for investment as part of its technology roadmap.

But the government is continuing to resist pressure to sign up to a target of net zero emissions by 2050 – a concrete and increasingly uncontroversial abatement target that would give its roadmap a clear destination.

Ahead of the budget on 6 October, the energy minister, Angus Taylor, will on Tuesday release the first annual statement under the roadmap. It identifies the Coalition’s first five priority technologies and claims investments of “around” $18bn over 10 years.

The $18bn figure includes the investment budgets of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation ($13bn), the Australian Renewable Energy Agency ($1.4bn), the emissions reduction fund ($2.9bn) and grants programs managed by the CSIRO, cooperative research centres and the Australian Research Council ($1bn).

While the government last week earmarked $50m for carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects when it unveiled a planned reboot of Arena, the roadmap statement signposts more expenditure on the technology. The government is leaving open the option of developing CCS projects associated with power generation, heavy industry, hydrogen and gas production.

The report will also set what Taylor terms “stretch goals”. The government set the first of these earlier this year, to get hydrogen production under $2 a kilogram.

On Tuesday, Taylor will add: getting CCS, including carbon compression, transport and storage, under $20 a tonne; getting low emissions steel production under $900 a tonne and aluminium under $2,700 a tonne; getting energy storage dispatched at less than $100 a megawatt-hour; and bringing in the measurement of soil carbon at less than $3 a hectare.

Further down the list of priorities are energy efficiency projects, electric and hydrogen vehicle charging/refuelling infrastructure, and what the government calls “low emissions energy system enablers”, such as virtual power plants. Virtual power plants connect large numbers of solar battery storage systems to generate electricity.

A discussion paper released in May flagged examining “emerging nuclear technologies” as part of Australia’s energy mix, but Tuesday’s statement will relegate nuclear to a watching brief alongside negative emissions technologies, which are those that remove carbon pollution from the atmosphere.

The roadmap identifies coal, gas, solar and wind energy as “mature” technologies, and not on the priority list. But the government is reserving the right to intervene where there is market failure, which the government defines as “a shortage of dispatchable generation, or where these investments secure jobs in key industries”.

The government claims this strategy will “avoid” 250m tonnes of emissions a year by 2040. It is unclear how this projection is reached.

In order to achieve its objectives, the Morrison government will need parliamentary support to overhaul the mandates of the CEFC and Arena. The strategy will also require changes to regulation.

According to extracts of Taylor’s speech, the minister will tell the National Press Club on Tuesday the first report in the roadmap strategy “will not only prioritise our investments but where we will streamline regulation and legislation to encourage investment”.

Labor has flagged it will vote against the government’s proposal to explicitly open up the taxpayer-owned green bank to fossil fuel investments, and the opposition has telegraphed concern about the reboot of Arena.

Anthony Albanese has declared the Coalition is trying to “emasculate” the Arena by overhauling the mandate of the organisation so there is less focus on solar and wind, and more investment in hydrogen, carbon capture and storage, microgrids and energy efficiency.

If Labor and the Greens oppose the shift, the government will have to run the gauntlet of the Senate crossbench.

Australia’s emissions have dropped 2.2% since the Coalition was elected in 2013, according to the most recent complete government data, covering the year to March. They fell nearly 15% in the previous six years under Labor.

National emissions are down 14.3% since 2005, but only 3.1% below where they were in 2000.

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