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Billion dollar questions for bustling port as it scraps plans for liquid hydrogen

Business

Dalrymple Bay Infrastructure has some big dollar questions it needs to answer.

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At least $500 million (probably more) has been chalked in for non-expansionary capital at the port, near Mackay, and then there were plans for the 8X expansion project, a $1.369 billion question it expects to answer this time next year.

On top of that it has to figure out what it will do about the booming green energy market. This week it ruled out liquid hydrogen because of some obvious issues. The product has to be kept at minus 230 degrees and DBI’s berths, located in tropical north Queensland, are 4km from the coastline.

Ammonia, which holds hydrogen, is a better option and one which DBI would now focus on, its chief executive Anthony Timbrell said.

But then, DBI has to resolve the question of a new berth for ammonia or optimising the existing four and allowing ammonia ships to mingle with coal.

Adding a bit more to the flavour of events at the company was that China has also returned to Dalrymple Bay. Four China-bound coal ships were in the port in February. A small but welcome event.

Add to that the turmoil that Covid created and the surprise increase in coal throughput so far in 2023.

“January and February is generally the quiet season for coal in Queensland because generally the big buyers anticipate cyclones and weather interruptions so they tend to stock up with Australian coal in the lead up to Christmas to prepare for the disruptions during the wet season,’’ he said.

“This year has been different. We have been running at 60mt, which is a marked improvement on where we were.

“At the same time, investors should feel reassured by the fact our throughput in the last couple of years went from 70mt to 53mt and is now back to 60mt. Effectively it means no difference to our cash flows because of the take or pay nature of the contracts.’’

This week the company reported full year revenue of $623 million, up 24 per cent. Its EBITDA of $264 million was up 41 per cent.

According to Timbrell, there is no question about the future of metallurgical coal.

“We are fully contracted at 84.2mt and we have about 33mt in additional access requests sitting in a queue,’’ he said.

The 8X expansion would deliver about 15mt of capacity and 50 per cent of the requests relate to existing mines. It would be underwritten by the take or pay contracts, but it also needs the rail network to be able to meet the demand.

“It may seem surprising to some people but the reality is we still see demand for met coal,’’ Timbrell said.

The focus at the company, though, is on the organic non-expansionary capital investments for things like ship loaders.

“We are very happy to put the capital into it. Unlike most businesses we get a return on our non-expansionary capital investment,’’ he said.

As for the question of a future investment in ammonia, Timbrell said DBI was not getting ahead of itself. Any significant capital would only be spent when it had firm take or pay contracts.

However, he said DBI was in a good position for the emerging ammonia/hydrogen market because of its proximity to Asia.

 

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