Chevron bankrolls WA govt GreenTech hub, Fraunhofer study

Brandon How

The Western Australian government has founded a new GreenTech hub and grants program backed by fossil fuels giant Chevron, with some funding already committed to a feasibility study on bringing Fraunhofer to the state.

Chevron’s Gorgon Joint Venture will provide $40 million towards the new initiatives, announced by Innovation and Digital Economy minister Stephen Dawson in his address to West Tech Fest in Perth on Tuesday.

An undisclosed part of the funding has already been dedicated to a 12-month feasibility study by German research organisation Fraunhofer Gesellschaft “to determine whether it can bring its green innovation platform to Western Australia”, Mr Dawson said.

The state government has had conversations with Fraunhofer directly, rather than through the German government, with the discussions led by chief scientist Peter Klinken.

Of the remaining funding, $4 million over four years will be spent on establishing a new GreenTech hub.

Most of the remaining money will be awarded in grants worth $5 million to $15 million through a new fund — the Lower Carbon Grants Program Fund – Gorgon Fund — administered by the Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science, and Innovation.

WA Minister for Innovation and ICT Stephen Dawson launching government’s innovation strategy. Image: Lewis Williamson

Mr Dawson said the state would keep “some money up our sleeves to do other work based on things like the Fraunhofer work or indeed other work that we might need to undertake moving forward”.

The GreenTech Hub will have the same design as existing WA tech innovation hubs and aims to accelerate green technologies and services. Some grants will be available through the hub although its work program will be determined once the hub has been formally established.

The government is currently accepting expressions of interest from experienced innovation incubators and catalysts. Applications from a group of individuals or organisations are being accepted, with the government targeting the second quarter of 2024 to announce the hub’s operator.

The grants program will be administered by a team in the Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science, and Innovation under agreed parameters with Chevron, which will target “large transformational research and innovation projects”.

When asked by journalists for details on the parameters, Mr Dawson said Chevron has not specified particular technologies, just that they want to understand what “tech or innovation could be out there, or could be on the way, and to use that to help decarbonise our economy”.

However, when asked if the fund would invest in carbon, capture, and storage technology, Mr Dawson said “no, that’s not my understanding”.

When asked if he saw any irony in partnering with the fossil fuels giant, the minister said “not in the slightest”.

The Chevron-operated Gorgon Joint Venture, which also includes ExxonMobil and Shell, features natural gas extraction and a carbon capture and storage project, which has never met capture targets.

Chevron general manager of energy transition David Fallon denied the announcement on Tuesday was the company’s attempt to greenwash.

However, he noted that the initiative was part of an “ongoing conversation together with government to help address the historical shortfall of the Gorgon [carbon dioxide] injection between 2016 and 2021”.

The Gorgon carbon, capture, and storage project has failed to meet its carbon dioxide sequestration target every year since operations began in 2019, after it had to push back the beginning of operations from March 2016. It currently captures just one third of its target capacity.

The state has four other innovation hubs. These are the WA Data Science Hub, WA’s Cyber Security Hub CyberWest, the MTPConnect WA Life Sciences Innovation Hub, and the WA Creative Technology Innovation Hub.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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