Saudi Arabia offers Europe ‘green’ hydrogen by pipeline
Saudi Arabia has seen the ears of the wolf. The world’s largest oil producer knows that it has a problem in the short and medium term. Not so much because of the depletion of its reserves, still very abundant , but because the energy model of half humanity has taken a different course from that of fossil fuels, one that is already immovable. If Saudi Arabia wants to remain a relevant player in the future, it needs to reconvert. And for this it has set its sights on renewable hydrogen.
The project . The Wall Street Journal tells it : the Saudi authorities want to build the largest hydrogen factory on the planet. They will do so with an investment of around 5,000 million euros, between the construction of the complex and the start-up of a distribution line that reaches the main global markets. To give us an idea, the largest hydrogen plant in operation is located in Québec and produces 9 tons per day. Saudi Arabia wants to produce 650.
Where? In Neom, the futuristic city we ‘ve talked about sometime (no, it’s not the Murcia-inspired city that they are building elsewhere). Its location facing the shores of the Red Sea would make it an ideal destination for the project. Close to ports of great importance for, the region, desert, is very sunny and enjoys great night winds. A perfect combo. Renewable hydrogen is obtained through electrolysis , essentially the decomposition of water to obtain hydrogen (H2) on the one hand and oxygen (O2) on the other.
Its viable? There are several problems. Although hydrogen is the most abundant element on Earth, it is rarely found in isolation, forcing it to be synthesized from other substances. Water is one of them, the most abundant. It happens that electrolysis is a complex and expensive process. Until now, most of the commercial hydrogen had been extracted from natural gas or coal ( gray hydrogen ), which made it a very cheap product … But more polluting than desirable.
For some time now, science has been at work to reverse its historical “great failure” in the production of green hydrogen on a large scale and at cheap prices. We know that the price of electrolyzers has plummeted in recent years in the same way as solar panels or wind turbines. And also that there are several very hopeful investigations underway .
Logistics . Beyond the technique, the production of hydrogen dragged another deficiency. Logistics. As explained here, the world is still designed to consume energy from fossil fuels. The leap to hydrogen would require a multimillion-dollar investment not only in terms of plants capable of producing it, but also in gas pipelines and in the transformation of the energy supply system of all countries. The transport and storage of hydrogen remains inefficient and expensive, although there are already ideas to solve it (among others, salt caves ).
The solutions . Saudi Arabia plans to solve both limitations as it has solved everything throughout its existence: with absurd amounts of money. Investing in a still complex and unprofitable technology only makes sense from gigantic scales. And we don’t know when or if green hydrogen will ever offset all of your investment costs. Some analytics give you 14% of the world’s energy before 2050, but it is still an unrealistic scenario. The cost of classic renewables is still 50% or 70% lower.
Hope . So it makes sense for a country like Saudi Arabia, with such deep pockets, to make such an uncertain bet. “Hydrogen will become 30 years in what today is oil , ” he said a Saudi spokesman told the WSJ. If it works, it will be revolutionary: a clean, non-polluting fuel, produced from a renewable element, with great storage potential and not dependent on whether it is sunny or windy. A bet that other countries share : Australia already contemplates a similar project of $ 36,000 million ; and Germany is trying to solve its energy headache with him.