September 27, 2022 | Energy Future & Transition
While the debate on the viability of #hydrogen as the next global energy source remains, many nations have passed the deliberation stage and are setting down the foundation stones to make it happen – particularly in Africa and the GCC. However, large expenditures involved in developing production facilities and the fuel’s greater infrastructure chains are putting cost reduction at the heart of the hydrogen equation, with cost-effective technological developments key in making the hydrogen era a possibility. NEOS operates a science lab consisting of scientists and university professors that have recently produced results that may revolutionize the industry.
Although GCC nations hold around one-third of the world’s oil reserves and one-fifth of global gas reserves, these high-income nations are now funneling their considerable resources into their energy transition, with hydrogen seen as the main proponent of cutting down on carbon emissions. In 2021, Saudi Arabia announced its goal of becoming the world’s largest hydrogen producer. To this end, the nation is currently developing the NEOM Green Hydrogen project, which will produce 650 tons of hydrogen through electrolysis and 1.2 million tons of green ammonia per year when commissioned in 2026. Conversely, Oman and the UAE have announced the development of national hydrogen roadmaps under their current growth strategies.
Africa has been hailed as the next regional green energy powerhouse due to the region’s abundance of solar and wind potential, including 60% of the world’s best solar resources. Based on its achievable energy output, the International Energy Agency estimates that Africa has the potential to produce 5,000 megatons of hydrogen per year, which is the equivalent of the entire world’s current energy production combined.
Some African nations are more ahead of the game than others. In November 2021, Namibia awarded a contract to develop a USD 9.4-billion green hydrogen project that will produce 300,000 tons of hydrogen per year when in full operation. The first phase is expected to be complete in 2026 and will see the installation of 2 GW of renewable power generation for hydrogen production. Similarly, South Africa has allocated around USD 17.8 billion to be used to develop green hydrogen projects over the next decade, with four large developments currently underway. The nation’s roadmap calls for 500 kilotons of green hydrogen to be produced by 2030 and a goal of generating 15 GW based on hydrogen by 2040. Other African nations are also scrambling to develop their own hydrogen programs, including Kenya, Morocco, Egypt, and Nigeria.
LATEST BREAKTHROUGH: One of the largest factors in holding back the hydrogen revolution has consistently been pricing. As with most energy developments, large investments are required to front these projects with only long-term returns. Production of hydrogen specifically requires a large amount of power generation to undergo its necessary electrolysis process, which raises its cost sharply.
NEOS’ scientists have discovered that by replacing the coating of electrodes used in the electrolysis process with nickel-graphene compared to the traditionally used smooth nickel, electricity costs in producing a single square meter of hydrogen can be reduced by 7.2%. While that may seem small, the cost of developing the energy required to break down water into its energy-potent hydrogen form is extremely high and a key variable in the practicality of renewable-based green hydrogen production. Moving this study beyond the lab into industrial-sized facilities may well tip the scales for investors.
A QUESTION OF VIABILITY: Whether the hydrogen revolution will be swift and successful in interested nations depends solely on the following factors: proper financing and cost reductions, procurement of materials necessary for electrolysis, establishing legal frameworks, and setting up the infrastructure and logistics necessary for large-scale utilization of hydrogen in industry and beyond. At this point, the largest task falls on policymakers to build an attractive investment environment and financially feasible avenues of execution. If these conditions are met, demand for hydrogen will in turn catapult the development of supply chains and large returns on the weighty investments necessary for such projects. The viability of hydrogen, at this point, depends on the careful use of the latest technologies, informed execution, and proper expertise.