DUBAI: As world leaders gather in Glasgow for the COP26 summit, the untapped potential of hydrogen among other alternative energy sources has caught the attention of experts and delegates who visited the Scottish city to explore ways to mitigate climate change.
Hydrogen fuel has become a viable competitor for the energy transition as heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise despite the Paris Agreement target of limiting global warming to well below of 2 degrees Celsius and continue efforts to limit it to 1.5 degrees Celsius. .
According to a joint report by the consultancy firm Roland Berger and the international industrial network Dii Desert Energy entitled “The potential of green hydrogen in the GCC region”, the intrinsic characteristics of hydrogen make it a clean and versatile energy carrier. , with the potential to become new oil or natural gas.
Hydrogen gas can be used to store energy for long periods of time, in large reservoirs or in salt caves. And, according to engineering firm Geostock, some GCC countries have the ideal geological conditions to enable large-scale underground storage facilities inside rock formations, which could act as a buffer for varying seasonal demand.
In any case, thanks to their vast empty spaces, strong regular sunshine and, in some places, strong winds, the GCC states are well placed to develop low-cost, large-scale renewable energy projects.
Last year, IHS Markit predicted that the price of âgreen hydrogenâ in GCC countries would be competitive with âblue hydrogenâ by 2025 and with âgray hydrogenâ by 2030.
“It is a CO2-free energy source,” Heinz Sturm, civil engineer and expert in hydrogen and fuel cells, told Arab News. “I consider Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to be very important suppliers for the global supply of green hydrogen, especially for EU countries.”
Hydrogen is derived from the electrolysis of water, which uses electricity to split water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen. Green hydrogen is produced using renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power to drive the chemical reaction, without emitting carbon byproducts.
“The problem is, it’s too expensive and you need wind or solar power, which is a huge problem for developing countries,” said Sturm, who regularly advises governments and the UN. on hydrogen and the circular economy, climate change and clean energies.
However, âanother way to do it is gasification of biomass waste. It’s 30% cheaper than splitting water, reduces waste and is completely carbon-free.
Sturm is also the founder of the Bonn Climate Project, which is implemented by the International Clean Energy Partnership and the Germany-based Climate Technology Center.
In 2017, he produced a technical report titled âThe Hydrogen Economy for Arab Countries,â commissioned by Berlin-based Arab-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry Ghorfa to find ways to combat climate change from a new perspective.
“It is important for the Gulf countries because they are the current suppliers of oil to the EU and we will always need such a supply to continue in the future,” Sturm said.
âSo they have to build this business and switch it to hydrogen instead of oil. For the countries of North Africa, they have other opportunities to produce green hydrogen by thermal chemical reaction of biomass waste, which will contribute to the growth of their economy. It is a social, political and economic project.
Experts say the potential for green hydrogen in sectors ranging from chemicals and refineries to transportation and residential is immense. According to the International Energy Agency, the abundance of renewables in GCC countries makes the block potentially one of the most price-competitive for hydrogen production.
Progress is already being made in Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Oman, while in Saudi Arabia a 2 GW green hydrogen production facility for ammonia is in preparation for NEOM, the smart city project that takes shape on the coast of the Red Sea Kingdom.
Developed through a partnership between ACWA Power, Air Products and NEOM, the project is one of the largest green hydrogen initiatives in the world.
âGiven the availability of competitive and low-cost renewable energies, NEOM will produce green hydrogen on a large scale and convert it to green ammonia for export,â according to the Dii Desert Energy report.
âNEOM’s prime location enables world record prices for renewables and among the highest combined capacity factors in solar and wind power beyond 70%. “
NEOM has developed a comprehensive localization approach and strategy, which the report says could make it the first hydrogen valley in the MENA region – an area where multiple applications are combined into an integrated hydrogen ecosystem.
âIt could serve as an incubator for NEOM and other green hydrogen projects nationally and potentially internationally,â the Dii Desert Energy report said.
The potential economic benefits are huge, including new job opportunities in a wide range of positions and skills.
âFor the GCC, hydrogen has the potential to become a $ 200 billion industry and could create 900,000 direct and indirect jobs by 2050, which is important,â Frank Wouters, green energy developer and president of the MENA Hydrogen Alliance, an initiative led by Dii Desert Energy, told Arab News.
The joint Dii Desert Energy and Roland Berger report predicts that between 200,000 and 450,000 jobs could be created in the region by 2050 in renewable energies linked to hydrogen production. However, these jobs will require new skills that do not exist in the current workforce. Accordingly, it recommends that the GCC develop a capacity building ecosystem, including education and training programs.
It also advises GCC countries to develop hydrogen valley projects, while setting up research and development partnerships with international technology providers to accelerate the development of hydrogen ecosystems, especially for advanced technologies.
To unlock the full potential of the hydrogen economy, the report adds that GCC countries will need to set a clear direction for all key players with integrated hydrogen strategies. This could ultimately generate up to $ 200 billion in revenue per year.
To this end, Sturm wants technology sharing agreements to be concluded between the Gulf countries and Germany.
âWe need hydrogen as a universal energy for all sectors, because no other energy source can do it,â he said. âThe Gulf countries are already more advanced than most other nations thanks to their decisive commitment to climate protection. “
Looking to the not-so-distant future, Sturm said: âIf they work in parallel with Germany and the EU for the introduction of a hydrogen economy, we can save our climate and, with it , our world.
Twitter: @Caline Malek