With announcement after announcement of grand hydrogen plans across the Middle East over the last year, it seems some of the world’s major energy-producing states are battling it out for a piece of the hydrogen pie. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have both revealed major investments in blue and green hydrogen production for the next decade, hoping to beat Europe to become the biggest producers of the fuel. Last week, France’s Engie and Abu Dhabi-based renewable energy business Masdar announced plans to invest $5 billion in the development of the UAE’s green hydrogen industry. Few details have been provided around the development, but the two companies hope to establish projects with an electrolyzer capacity of 2 gigawatts by 2030. The project is aimed at developing a giga-scale green hydrogen hub for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which could help accelerate the decarbonization of the economy.
The two firms stated that the new hydrogen projects will “initially target local supply, with the aim of expanding capacity to create a giga-scale green hydrogen hub for the GCC, with the potential to export to other markets.”
In May this year, Dubai launched the region’s ‘first industrial scale’ green hydrogen plant. Operated by Siemens, the project will use energy from the enormous Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, which is expected to achieve a production capacity of 5,000 megawatts by 2030.
Related: Oil Prices Under Pressure Despite An Optimistic Outlook In the November COP26 summit, the UAE revealed aims for a 25 percent share of the global low-carbon hydrogen market by 2030 through its ‘hydrogen leadership roadmap’. The country hopes to become a leading hydrogen exporter over the next decade, particularly focusing on the Europe and East Asia markets, with several projects already underway. The Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. (ADNOC) currently produces over 300,000 mt/year of hydrogen, with targets of 500,000 mt/year.
But it’s not the only Middle Eastern country aiming to develop its green hydrogen industry ahead of international competitors. Saudi Arabia is already investing heavily in hydrogen projects, although state-owned energy firm ARAMCO admits that blue hydrogen still dominates, aiming to make green hydrogen more financially viable to grow the sector. This comes as part of the national transport and logistics strategy to boost annual non-oil revenues from the sector to $12 billion by 2030.
Saudi Arabia is working with neighboring countries as ACWA Power and Omanoil and Air Products sign a $7 billion agreement this week to produce green hydrogen in Oman’s Salalah free zone. ACWA Power and US-based Air Products are already developing a $5 billion hydrogen-based ammonia plant as part of the Neom development on the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia. The facility is expected to produce 650 tonnes of hydrogen every day.
Through regional agreements, Oman is also hoping to become a major hydrogen producer and exporter. In November, local officials announced that it hoped to establish a hydrogen-centric economy by 2040, with 30GW of green and blue hydrogen. The government has hinted at a national hydrogen strategy to be released before the end of the year. Further, Oman already has plans to construct one of the world’s largest hydrogen facilities by 2038, with works commencing in 2028. The $30 billion plants will be powered by 25 gigawatts of wind and solar energy, aiming for an eventual hydrogen output of 1.8 million tonnes per year.
Abullah al Abri, head of Energy Renewal at Petroleum Development Oman stated, “The potential for clean hydrogen, including the green and blue versions, is around 1GW by 2025, 10GW by 2030, and around 30GW by 2040 — this is how we see the growth of hydrogen in Oman.”
The Middle East energy-producing states hope to rival Europe in hydrogen production as the race to green hots up. Huge investments from the UAE and Saudi Arabia are expected to compete against similar developments across Europe. Just this month, Spanish power company Iberdrola and Sweden’s H2 Green Steel announced their partnership for the development of a $2.6 billion green hydrogen facility. To be situated on the Iberian Peninsula, the plant is expected to commence operations in 2025/26.
However, not all hydrogen is equal, and while Europe is leading in the production of grey/blue hydrogen, derived from fossil fuel production, it still has a long way to go in developing its green hydrogen industry. But the high cost of producing green hydrogen compared to blue and grey alternatives continues to be a limiting factor. While energy majors contend with this challenge, time will tell which country can develop its green hydrogen sector the fastest through heavy up-front investments to become the largest producer and exporter of the fuel.
By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com
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