Whilst this area of the world is typically known for more traditional energy sources, over the last few years there have been a number of projects in the Middle East that demonstrate how the region is researching and developing hydrogen technology and the deployment of a hydrogen economy, among other renewable energy sources. Several projects have been undertaken in the UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the most notable of which are outlined below.
The United Arab Emirates (“UAE”) is a pioneer in renewable energy (particularly solar) and is committed to developing a green energy economy.
Air Liquide, a world leader in gases, technologies and services, recently undertook a study in collaboration with Al Futtaim Toyota and Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research (“Khalifa University”), to distribute Toyota's hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric vehicle (“FCEV”), Mirai, and consider strategies of how to develop the hydrogen industry in the UAE. The study demonstrated that there is substantial potential for hydrogen mobility to become a major economy for the UAE, in line with the UAE’s Vision 2021, as well as its clean energy goals.
In 2017, Al Futtaim Motors in partnership with Air Liquide opened the first hydrogen station in the Middle East, at Al Badia, Dubai Festival City. Construction of a second station was set to begin in 2020 in Masdar City, between Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (“ADNOC”), Masdar Clean Energy, and Al Futtaim Motors, though it is not known when this is due to become operational.
In February 2019, the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (“DEWA”) inaugurated the first solar-driven hydrogen electrolysis facility, the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, in the Middle East and North Africa (“MENA”) region in Dubai. According to reports, the hydrogen produced at the facility is intended to be stored and deployed for re-electrification, transportation and other uses. It is likely that the facility will be operational in 2022.
Expo 2020 Dubai, which has been postponed to October 2021 due to Covid-19, intends to showcase hydrogen mobility by powering a number of FCEVs with the hydrogen generated at the facility. In addition, the Emirates National Oil Company (“ENOC”) is planning to unveil a “Service Station of the Future” for the Expo, which will use multiple sources of energy, including solar and hydrogen.
The Abu Dhabi Police has also announced plans to convert its vehicle fleet to FCEVs by 2050.
Hydrogen projects are generally considered to be in line with Saudi Arabia’s clean energy targets and vision for 2030, however, there have only been two large-scale hydrogen projects to date.
In July 2020, Air Products & Chemicals (“Air Products”), whose principal business is selling gases and chemicals for industrial use, announced plans to build a green hydrogen plant in Saudi Arabia. The plant will be powered by 4 GW of wind and solar power, making it the world's largest such project. The USD 5 billion plant will be jointly owned by Air Products, Saudi Arabia's ACWA Power, and Neom, a new mega-city planned near Saudi Arabia’s borders with Egypt and Jordan. Due to be operational in 2025 and situated in the city of Neom, the completed facility will produce 650 tons of green hydrogen daily, enough to run around 20,000 hydrogen-fuelled buses.
Egypt has huge potential in terms of land and resources to produce hydrogen powered by solar energy for export. Egypt is considered a “sun belt” country with 2,000 to 3,200 kWh/m2 of direct solar radiation. The sun shines between 9 and 11 hours a day with few cloudy days. There are also land areas with high and steady wind speeds suitable for producing wind energy, which can also be used to produce green hydrogen.
Egypt has adopted an ambitious energy diversification strategy. The strategy aims at ensuring the continuous security and stability of power supply, the diversification of energy resources and the optimum exploitation of the country’s resources. The strategy has set a target to achieve 20% renewable energy of the total national generation capacities by 2022. This share will increase to 37% in 2030 and to 42% in 2035.
Research and education
Air Liquide, Khalifa University, and Toyota distributor Al-Futtaim Motors have, in 2020, released a joint study that outlines the contribution of hydrogen to the energy transition and demonstrates the favourable prospects for hydrogen mobility in the UAE. Since 2014, Khalifa University has been collaborating with Japan to explore the possibility of establishing a hydrogen supply chain in order to increase hydrogen utilisation in the sustainable economy.
In March 2020, the DEWA Research and Development Centre (the “R&D Centre”), part of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, was opened. The R&D Centre is focussed on four major operational areas: “electricity generation from solar and clean energy, integration of smart grids, energy efficiency, and water”. A solar-powered green hydrogen project is being built at the outdoor testing facility of the R&D Centre, which is expected to be launched at the Dubai Expo 2020 (postponed until 2021).
In 2019, Saudi Aramco and Air Products signed a cooperation agreement to jointly build Saudi Arabia’s first hydrogen FCEV fuelling station. The agreement brought together Air Products’ technical knowledge and experience in working with hydrogen and Saudi Aramco’s industrial experience, facilities and research and development capabilities. The fuelling station became operational in late 2019. As part of the agreement, a pilot fleet of FCEVs will be built, for which high-purity compressed hydrogen will be dispensed at the new fuelling station.
Several research and development initiatives and activities are currently being carried out at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (“KAUST”) into hydrogen and fuel-cell technologies. The aim of these studies being to the realise the results within Saudi Arabia’s transport sector.