Al Suwailem: Hydrogen plays an important role in the zero-carbon energy system

The Kingdom is one of the least expensive renewable energy producers in producing green hydrogen

  
Image used for illustrative purpose. oil refinery industry plant along twilight morning.

Image used for illustrative purpose. oil refinery industry plant along twilight morning.

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RIYADH — With Saudi Arabia’s endeavor to expand the development of carbon-neutral hydrogen, and its announcement of establishing the largest green ammonia plant in the world, in addition to the Kingdom’s export of the first blue ammonia shipment to Japan, the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center (KAPSARC) published a workshop brief conducted recently by the center in cooperation with Clingendael International Energy Programme (CIEP), and with the participation of 35 experts, to shed light on ways to expand the hydrogen economy and the Kingdom’s role in this field.

KAPSARC’s paper emphasized that hydrogen is a potential solution to achieving climate goals and decarbonizing hard-to-abate sectors, such as industry, chemicals, and heavy-duty transport. It is currently perceived as an energy vector and can be used in the production of synthetic fuels. This makes it an essential component of the Circular Carbon Economy (CCE), which accelerates the shift to cleaner and more sustainable fuels.

In 2019, the International Energy Agency (IEA) announced the use of nearly $17 billion of public funding in research and development of low-carbon energy technologies around the world. Three-quarters of this funding was used in low-carbon energy generation and energy efficiency technologies.

Hydrogen has acquired only 8% of all research specialized in low-carbon energy development. In order to accelerate the process of decarbonization, more focus and more funding must be diverted to technologies that can deal with hard-to-abate sectors, such as hydrogen, Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology, and biofuels.

In this context, KAPSARC’s economic researcher Rami Shabaneh, in the Markets and Industrial Development program, explained that the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to the enhancement of hydrogen initiatives in some countries, as some governments have linked their economic packages to green projects (environmentally friendly).

The researcher stated that hydrogen needs an increase in its uses far from the current purposes in order to be effective. He indicated that the focus should be on expanding its scope and building the infrastructure to reach other sectors, such as the steel industry, heating in buildings and the transport sector.

He explained that in the early stages, hydrogen can be mixed in specific quantities with natural gas, and the current natural gas pipelines networks can be used to connect producers and consumers and develop storage facilities.

Meanwhile, KAPSARC’s researcher Majed Al Suwailem, in the Markets and Industrial Development program, stated that hydrogen plays a pivotal role in the zero-carbon energy system, as it helps in decarbonizing hard-to-abate sectors. It also works as an energy vector to manage the high volatility in renewable energy production and contribute to enhancing energy security.

He added that, in some cases, transporting hydrogen for certain distances or storing it for a certain period of time is cheaper than electricity.

He noted that it is important to decarbonize the current hydrogen production facilities to accelerate the deployment of low-carbon technology, such as CCS and renewable energy, with the aim of creating value chains for carbon-neutral hydrogen, i.e., blue and green hydrogen.

According to KAPSARC’s workshop brief, Saudi Arabia has the opportunity to provide hydrogen, as it contains vast quantities of low-cost hydrocarbons, in addition to suitable geological spaces for carbon storage, making it an ideal location to provide blue hydrogen that is generated by dismantling methane gas into hydrogen and carbon compounds, and then pumping carbon into the ground.

The Kingdom is one of the least expensive renewable energy producers in producing green hydrogen, which is provided by dismantling water into hydrogen and oxygen compounds by using electricity that is generated by renewable energy, such as wind and sun in the northwest of the Kingdom.

Participants in the workshop discussed the industrial uses of hydrogen, its supply chain and the creation of a new market, in addition to the main policy tools needed to stimulate the rapid development of carbon-neutral hydrogen production. — SG

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