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Can hydrogen fuel the future for MENA?

by ,
Rafael Classen

In the drive towards a cleaner energy mix, solar and wind power tend to make the most headlines, but hydrogen has a role to play in meeting climate goals, providing fertilisers and transportation fuels, and offering potentially lucrative opportunities for innovative countries.

A study by the Abu Dhabi-based Clean Energy Business Council’s Hydrogen and Energy Storage Working Group found that the MENA region is projected to become the world’s biggest supplier of green hydrogen, with participation of MENA countries in blue and green hydrogen projects rising from 11 percent in 2020 to 89 percent in 2021. The working group noted that the UAE leads the region with a share of 29 percent of all MENA projects, ahead of Egypt and Morocco, each at 19.3 percent. Tunisia and Saudi Arabia at 6.4 percent each, and Algeria and Bahrain at 3.2 percent each.

This year saw the UAE deliver its first shipment of ammonia-derived hydrogen from ADNOC to the German port of Hamburg. Germany plans to meet growing hydrogen demand mostly through imports. War in Ukraine has hastened Germany’s need to move away from dependency on Russian gas, representing a major opportunity for the UAE’s emerging hydrogen industry.  

When ADNOC signed a memorandum of understanding and joint study agreement with Germany in March 2022, Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, UAE’s minister for industry and advanced technology, said the state-owned energy company has ambitions to export hydrogen to Asia as well as Europe through partnerships with public and private sector organisations. 

The UAE is aiming for a 25 percent share of the world hydrogen market by 2030. The deal with Germany is not ADNOC’s only international hydrogen venture. In May 2022, ADNOC and bp agreed to move to the design phase for a low-carbon hydrogen plant in the UK, as well as forming a partnership with Abu Dhabi-based Masdar to explore aviation fuel production using green hydrogen. The aviation project will also involve waste management centre, Tadweer, and Etihad Airways.

“ADNOC and Masdar’s deepened partnership with bp is a testament to the UAE and UK’s long-standing track record of bilateral partnership in sustainability as well as the UAE’s intent to play a leading role in the fast-growing clean hydrogen economy both domestically and internationally,” says Dr Al Jaber.

Elsewhere in the GCC, Saudi Arabia has similarly lofty hydrogen ambitions. In October 2021, energy minister, Abdulaziz bin Salman al-Saud, announced the kingdom’s goal of becoming the world’s largest hydrogen producer. NEOM, Saudi Arabia’s smart city development on the Red Sea coast will include a large-scale green ammonia plant so it can act as a downstream fuel or transit medium for hydrogen. 

In Riyadh, the establishment of the Hydrogen Center of Excellence was announced in June 2022. The centre aims to focus on technology transfer and green hydrogen manufacturing solutions for the hydrogen energy market in Saudi Arabia and the wider Middle East.

Sattam Alsuwailem, CEO of Hydrogen Systems, one of the collaborators with the centre, describes the initiative as “a great step forward for meaningful local content for hydrogen solutions to support the growing hydrogen economy.”

In Oman, there are plans to build hydrogen plants in the special economic zones of Sohar, Duqm and Salalah, with 47-year land concessions allocated for these projects. Hydom, an Omani state-owned entity established as a subsidiary of Energy Development Oman, will oversee operations. 

Engineer Abdulaziz al Shidhani, director general of Oman’s state-run Renewable Energy and Hydrogen, says Hydom’s role will include “managing common infrastructure [and] the bidding process … while also coordinating the offtake between investors [and overseeing] coordination between investors and utilities, such as the existing electricity and water companies, the gas network and the Public Authority for Special Economic and Free Zones.”

Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria are competing to take the lead with hydrogen projects in North Africa. Egypt is expected to announce more detailed plans about green hydrogen projects at the COP 27 conference, after considering applications from multiple foreign consortia to build plants in the Sokhna and East Port Said areas. Access to the Suez Canal will help Egypt meet transportation needs when exporting hydrogen by sea. The country’s hydrogen strategy includes plans to achieve 1.4 GW of hydrogen output by 2030.

Memorandums of understanding have already been signed between the Egyptian government and UK-based Globeleq and Actis, as well as Saudi-based Alfanar to build green hydrogen plants. The agreement with Globeleq includes plans for a seawater desalination plant, which is essential for providing water for hydrogen production in water-imperilled areas.

“Bold and rapid collective action is required to put the world on a sustainable pathway,” says Mike Scholey, CEO of Globeleq. “Egypt is a key country for Globeleq, and we are excited to support the government of Egypt’s ambitious green agenda and contribute to the fight against climate change.”

As well as adopting a hydrogen strategy to hasten its energy transition towards more green hydrogen, Morocco plans to produce 183,000 tonnes of green ammonia from green hydrogen to help decarbonise the fertiliser industry. The country’s first green hydrogen production plant has been built in a joint venture between the Mohamed VI Polytechnic University and the Institute for Research in Solar Energy and New Energies. Ammonia, methane and green fuels will be manufactured using carbon-free hydrogen, solar panels and an electrolyser, with the goal of producing fuel for energy and transportation.

IRENA (International Renewable Energy Agency) is optimistic about Morocco’s role in the global green hydrogen market – a January 2022 report by IRENA ranked Morocco alongside the US, Saudi Arabia, Australia and Chile as the top five countries with the potential to produce green hydrogen.

Tunisia launched H2Vert, a green hydrogen strategy, in June 2022. The project aims to develop a renewable energy-based value chain to produce green hydrogen and related goods. The four strategic goals are to further develop H2Vert, promote a green hydrogen economy, foster research, training and innovation, and establish a Tunisia-Bavaria technical hub to leverage hydrogen opportunities in Germany.

In February 2022, Algeria’s prime minister, Aymen Benabderrahmane, reading a speech on behalf of President Abdelmajdid Tebboune, was cautious, said that Algeria “is currently working, based on these comparative advantages, to develop a national strategy for hydrogen, including green hydrogen.” The speech did not mention export opportunities. However, in July 2022, Boukhalfa Yaïci, director general of the state-run Solar Energy Cluster, took a bolder approach, telling Algerian public radio that the country is “best placed” to meet Europe’s green hydrogen demand.

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