The lay of the land: How lidar surveying is helping to guide the Central Queensland Hydrogen Project

14 February 2024

Lidar surveying – a powerful remote sensing method that uses light beams to create 3D visualisations – is being used to help pave the way for Queensland’s largest renewable hydrogen project. 

The Central Queensland Hydrogen (CQ-H2) Project is being developed as a partnership between the Queensland Government-owned Stanwell Corporation, Japan’s Iwatani Corporation, Kansai Electric Power Company and Marubeni, and Singapore’s Keppel Infrastructure. 

The CQ-H2 Project includes the development of a large-scale renewable hydrogen production facility at Aldoga, as well as a hydrogen transport facility (pipeline), and a liquefaction and shipping facility at the Port of Gladstone. The project will also supply renewable hydrogen to an ammonia production facility. 

Commercial operations are planned to commence from 2029. Once operational, the project aims to deliver renewable hydrogen to Japan and Singapore, as well as supplying industrial customers in Central Queensland. 

Over its 30-year life, the project is expected to deliver $17.2 billion in hydrogen exports, add $12.4 billion to Queensland’s Gross State Product, and support more than 8,900 new jobs. 

A feasibility study for the project was successfully completed in 2022, and a Front End Engineering Design (FEED) study is now underway to enable a Final Investment Decision (FID). The FEED study represents the largest investment in an Australian renewable hydrogen project of its kind to date, with a commitment of $117 million from government and consortium partners. This includes $15 million from the Queensland Renewable Energy and Hydrogen Jobs Fund, and $20 million from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.  

During the FEED study, lidar surveys have been conducted to help inform the planning of the CQ-H2 Project. 

What is lidar? 

Lidar (short for light detection and ranging) is a remote sensing method that uses rapid light pulses to collect measurements and map out the surface of the earth. It’s similar to radar (radio detection and ranging) and sonar (sound navigation and ranging), but uses light waves from a laser in place of radio or sound waves. 

Lidar sensors use a process known as trigonometric triangulation to capture 3D shapes. Airborne lidar scanning units fire off hundreds of thousands of laser pulses per second, and when these beams of light hit an object or surface, they bounce off and reflect back to the lidar sensor. The lidar system then uses the velocity of light to calculate how long it took for the beams to reflect back (known as the time of flight). 

These pulsed laser measurements are then combined with the position and orientation of the lidar equipment, measured using a GPS receiver and internal measurement systems, to create a lidar data point. Each lidar data point has horizontal coordinates (X and Y) and a vertical elevation (Z) value, collectively known as XYZ values.  

A point cloud is made up of millions of these data points, representing millions of points on the surface that have been captured by a lidar sensor. This point cloud can then be combined with aerial photogrammetry to create accurate 3D models of the area being surveyed – and the denser the points are, the more detailed these models will be. 

Since its development in the early 1960s, when laser scanners were first mounted to planes, lidar surveying has become increasingly commonplace for large-scale projects such as the CQ-H2 Project. 

It’s a cost-effective method that allows for accurate data to be captured in a much shorter time frame than would be possible with traditional ground-based surveying methods. 

How will lidar surveying benefit the CQ-H2 Project? 

Lidar surveys can contribute to a project’s success by providing accurate data to inform planning decisions, and identifying obstacles and potential issues upfront. 

In the case of the CQ-H2 Project, lidar data points and aerial photographs were captured by a plane flying over the proposed sites of the hydrogen production facility, liquefaction and shipping facility and hydrogen pipeline route. 

A buffer of roughly 400 metres around the proposed sites for the facilities and along the entire pipeline route was also captured, to ensure the entire area was surveyed. 

In one instance where the accuracy of the lidar data wasn’t sufficient to meet the requirements of the Department of Transport and Main Roads, an additional ground survey was completed to supplement the lidar data. 

All lidar data, ground survey data and aerial photography for the CQ-H2 Project will now be provided to registered civil engineers. These engineers will utilise powerful 12d modelling software to create triangulated irregular networks (TIN), such as digital terrain models (DTMs) and digital elevation models (DEMs), that plot the natural and man-made geography of the proposed sites in precise detail. 

These models will be used as the base for the design of the facilities that will make up the CQ-H2 Project. 

They can also be used to identify potential obstacles to the project before building work starts, helping to avoid unforeseen variations and cost blowouts later on. 

For example, models generated using lidar data can be used to identify road networks, power lines and creek crossings that sit on the proposed pipeline route. 

Ideally, these obstacles will be mitigated by simply going around them. In cases where that’s not possible, it may be necessary to factor plans to tunnel or directionally drill under these obstacles into the cost estimate for the pipeline. 

These estimates will inform the FEED study, which will ultimately help to inform the FID. 

Supporting long-term benefits for the Central Queensland region 

The CQ-H2 Project is committed to working with the Gladstone community to ensure the project creates long-term benefits for the region, and will continue stakeholder and community engagement activities in Gladstone during the FEED stage.