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After the announcement of Egypt and the UAE, where are the Arabs’ plans to switch to hydrogen?

On Thursday, Egypt and the UAE announced plans to enhance the trend towards clean energy, by announcing the start of plans to use hydrogen as a source of energy generation, as well as the UAE’s aim to capture the lion’s share of the low-carbon hydrogen fuel market.

The Egyptian Minister of Petroleum, Tarek El-Molla , announced during the United Nations Climate Summit “COP26”, that his country is preparing an ambitious plan to use hydrogen as a fuel source and to generate 42% of electricity from renewable energy by 2030, while the UAE announced its goal to acquire 25% of the fuel market, low carbon hydrogen by 2030. 

Saudi Arabia has taken bold steps on the path to using hydrogen, as it began using it in the city of NEOM, and it was one of the countries to take effective and clear steps in this regard.

These steps come within the trend of a number of Arab countries, such as Egypt, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia, to turn toward hydrogen as a source of clean energy, on their way to reducing their consumption of fossil fuels and relying on environmentally friendly energy sources.

According to the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC), the number of Arab countries interested in investing in hydrogen production projects has risen to 7, including the UAE, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt, Oman and Morocco.

How can hydrogen be used as an energy source? What is the difference between green hydrogen and its blue or gray counterpart? And to what extent have Arab countries been using it? 

Egyptian plan and Emirati goals

The Egyptian minister said that Egypt is preparing an ambitious practical plan to use hydrogen as a low-hydrocarbon fuel source. The plan includes focusing on the production of blue hydrogen in the short and medium term, and thus, eventually producing green hydrogen.

During his participation in COP26 in Glasgow, El-Molla added that Egypt is adopting an ambitious program for new and renewable energy that aims to generate 42% of its electricity by 2030 from new and renewable energy.

In the UAE, the official agency announced that the oil state aims to acquire 25% of the low-carbon hydrogen fuel market by 2030. The agency added that the UAE is implementing more than 7 projects in the field of hydrogen targeting major export markets, such as Japan, South Korea, Germany, India, and other markets in Europe and East Asia. 

And the UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment, Maryam bint Mohammed Al Muhairi, wrote on Twitter, “The UAE today launched a road map to achieve leadership in the field of hydrogen, which is a comprehensive national plan that aims to support low-carbon local industries, contribute to achieving climate neutrality and enhance the position of countries as a source of hydrogen. An achievement. A new addition to the UAE’s march to protect the environment and climate action. 

How do we get hydrogen?

Hydrogen can be obtained from multiple sources, some of which are environmentally friendly and do not generate any polluting emissions to the environment, such as extracting hydrogen from water, Dr. Mohamed El-Sobky, professor of energy engineering and former head of the Renewable Energy Authority in Egypt told Al-Sharq.

Hydrogen is extracted from water by means of a technical process known as “electrolysis of water” that occurs by using an electric current to break the chemical compound of water, which consists of the elements hydrogen and oxygen in a ratio of 2 to 1, so that the hydrogen is separated from the oxygen. The hydrogen generated in this way is called green hydrogen; because it does not produce any polluting emissions to the environment. 

And unlike natural gas, hydrogen can be burned without carbon emissions, can be managed through fuel cells to generate electricity, and waste nothing but water.

Hydrogen is produced by electrolysis using solar power plants or wind farms, and then becomes a way to store vast amounts of renewable energy beyond what batteries can hold. Hydrogen is one of the most abundant chemical elements in nature, but it is not found alone.  

Al-Sobki added that there are other ways to extract industrial hydrogen, such as extracting it from fossil fuels and natural gas in particular, and it is called “blue hydrogen” or “grey hydrogen.” These processes result in polluting emissions to the environment, and there is also “yellow hydrogen” whose production is linked to nuclear energy, which In turn, it is not without risks, and therefore “green hydrogen is the best and most environmentally friendly type.” 

A recent study showed that the use of hydrogen as a vital alternative in the field of energy, may cause higher greenhouse gas emissions than coal, and the authors of this study denounced “blue hydrogen” because “it is difficult to justify its use for climatic reasons,” according to an article published in the University Journal of Energy Science and Engineering. 

How does Egypt benefit from hydrogen?

Mohamed Ali Fahim, the Egyptian expert and head of the Center for Climate Change and Renewable Energy, told Al-Sharq that Egypt’s plan to use hydrogen comes as part of the general trend to replace fossil fuel energy with clean and renewable energy, which would help it obtain foreign investments, many of which are required. Currently, the state should be supportive of the green economy. 

Is there a use of hydrogen in the Arab countries?

Fahim points out that the Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have been pioneers in the field of hydrogen conversion, saying that the UAE has already started using hydrogen in its solar power plant in Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, which is one of the largest solar power plants in the world. 

He added that Egypt has also started turning to hydrogen and has already concluded a number of agreements with countries with expertise in this field. 

The Egyptian expert, Mohamed El-Sobky, says that Saudi Arabia started using hydrogen in the city of Neom and was one of the countries that took effective and clear steps in this regard.

Other Arab countries are also planning to start relying on green hydrogen energy and transfer this technology to them, such as the Sultanate of Oman, which announced its plan to build one of the largest green hydrogen factories in the world at a cost of $30 billion, to start work in 2028. 

The project aims to produce 1.8 million tons of green hydrogen annually, Jamal Al-Nawaisah, a Jordanian expert and researcher in climate change affairs and head of the Renewable Energy and Environment Investment Association, told Al-Sharq.

 Al-Nawaisah pointed out that in Jordan, hydrogen generation from water faces challenges, saying, “The difficulty comes from the lack of places to set up factories for water analysis, due to the small water area available in the Gulf of Aqaba, but there are studies conducted to examine the possibility of withdrawing water to the Jordanian desert and treating it in basins for desalination and analysis for extraction. green hydrogen. 

Arab challenges

The biggest challenge facing renewable energies, according to the Egyptian expert, Mohamed Ali Fahim, is the high cost. With regard to hydrogen, he said, “Technologies for hydrogen generation are still not clear and are not endemic in most Arab countries, and they are high cost and require the development of the same industries that can to be dependent on hydrogen.

The most prominent difficulty in the green hydrogen production journey is the “electrolysis” process, which requires a huge amount of electrical energy, which was difficult to produce in the past, but it became possible recently with the availability of excess amounts of electricity in the distribution networks, according to a report by the magazine. Scientific American.”


This story was originally published on asharq.com, with the support of Climate Tracker.

Rahma Diaa
Rahma is a freelance Egyptian journalist and media trainer. She’s the founder of the Climate school initiative and the winner of Covering Climate Now’s Emerging Journalist Award 2021. She’s collaborated with Arab and foreign media, such as, Asharq news, Scientific American (Arabic version), climate tracker, VICE, and ARIJ websites and networks.