Cotton tries for a green hem

It’s white. It’s fluffy. It’s crucial for the New South Wales regional shire of Moree. Now the drive to make its cotton industry sustainable has been given a $35.8 million boost.

Although based on natural fibre, the cotton industry is often criticised for its environmental impact. It requires substantial use of fresh water, fertilisers and pesticides.

Carbon emissions from the global industry are judged to be about 220 million metric tons each year. About 85 per cent of this comes from fuel and fertiliser. But, unlike its main competitor, polyester, cotton ultimately decomposes into nutrients.

And that’s an edge the industry hopes to capitalise upon.

Moree growers plan to tackle their industry’s high capital and environmental costs by creating Good Earth Cotton at the nearby 65,000-acre Keytah property.

It will use locally produced fertilisers sourced from local green hydrogen, and will have all the necessary evidence to it to prove its green credentials.

At the project’s core is the planned 27 megaWatt /45,000MWh Wathagar Solar Farm, capable of electrolysing rainwater into the hydrogen equivalent of 1.4 million litres of diesel.

The NSW Government’s Hydrogen Hubs Initiative will support the Good Earth Green Hydrogen and Ammonia (GEGHA) project to construct a production facility for hydrogen fuel and ammonia.

Hydrogen fuel cells will power the facility’s irrigation pumps and, eventually, vehicles.

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And the ammonia, initially produced at up to 10 tons a day, will fertilise the soil.

Partners Hiringa Energy and agricultural enterprise Sundown Pastoral Co say the plant’s output will help local farmers meet growing export customer demand for low-carbon and sustainable produce.

“Our aim is to provide a more resilient, locally produced and lower emissions supply of key inputs to farm production – fertiliser – and transport to market – fuel,” says Hiringa Energy spokeswoman Cathy Clennett. “The project will prove the technical and commercial model for decarbonised agricultural systems and sets a precedent for the new frontier of farming and heavy transport .”

The GEGHA project says the hydrogen-sourced and distributed fertiliser will negate about 17,000 tonnes of CO2 annually. That’s in addition to dramatically reducing the transportation emissions and costs associated with hauling fertiliser and diesel to the remote shire.

“Exemplifying how Australia can decouple agriculture from fossil fuel-driven fertiliser production, we’ll also provide a credible pathway for heavy trucking to transition to low-emission transport using hydrogen and deliver on-farm emissions reduction for the agricultural sector with alternatives to fossil fuels such as LPG and diesel,” adds Sundown Pastoral Co David Statham. Industry body Cotton Australia says it engages in five and 10-yearly sustainability reporting to help it meet its 2030 industry targets and says Australian cotton growers produce more cotton on less land, with more efficient water use and with less impact on the environment than ever before.

The Greenlight Project is a year-long look at how regional Australia is preparing for and adapting to climate change.

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