GHD says Middle East could be at the heart of hydrogen revolution

Professional services company is helping to solve the globe’s biggest energy, water, and urbanisation sector challenges

As hydrogen asserts a growing significance in the future energy mix global professional services company GHD is highlighting its role alongside the potential of GCC nations as leading exporters.

With 200 offices across the world employing more than 10,000 skilled and diverse individuals, GHD leverages knowledge and reputation gained during almost 100 years of operation - more recently as hydrogen experts and leading advisors in energy transition.

The Cop26 climate change conference concluded in Glasgow recently with powerful pledges to cut emissions through strategies which the firm says should include hydrogen to unlock better ways of powering the planet.

GHD is underlining its own commitment to the clean energy transition it says must take place, and reinforcing the importance of Middle East players in making targets tangible.

Panos Bafis, business group leader for Future Energy and hydrogen for the Middle East, confirms GHD is working on ground-breaking hydrogen studies and pilot projects around the world.

He says hydrogen has moved on in 20 years from “hype” to become “part of the solution” on all continents.

“We see it from the Neom (Saudi Arabia megacity) project it’s not anymore like a trend, it’s part of the solution to the energy transition in how to go about, not let's say moving away from conventional power generation, but to connect all the dots,” says Mr Bafis, who stresses hydrogen’s significance as an energy carrier rather than a fuel.

“For the economies here in the region it would be the perfect solution - if you look at the world map, you will see who could be an exporter, who could be the importer of energy in that form.”

As a solver of the globe’s biggest energy, water, and urbanisation sector challenges through engineering, construction and architectural expertise and innovative approaches, GHD has long recognised urgent need to embrace a more sustainable energy, net-zero landscape that intensifies the role of renewables.

Under its Future Energy banner, the company has promised to commit global perspectives, interdisciplinary industry experts, and diverse experience to the energy transition of corporate entities, communities - even nations.

Mr Bafis confirms it is “early days with regards to numbers”, but there is momentum.

“Everything is a pilot study, if you like, however, now the whole thing is accelerating,” he says, also emphasising the growth of GHD's Future Energy team in several territories.

The company has a history of partnering with private and public sector clients to deliver services across the value chain, drawing on “deep technical and regulatory knowledge of the industry”.

It recently delivered analysis charting a route for blending green hydrogen into natural gas systems, while work with bp Australia explored the feasibility of developing an export-scale renewable hydrogen production facility.

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Becoming the world’s biggest producer and exporter of hydrogen is a “huge prize” that GHD says is within the grasp of the Middle East

Studies for GHD client Santos, meanwhile, examined carbon capture and a possible path towards the large scale export of hydrogen, with decarbonising natural gas into blue hydrogen as the focus.

Blue hydrogen - or “low carbon hydrogen” - is made using either steam methane reforming (SMR) or autothermal reforming (ATR), using natural gas as the only feedstock. This produces carbon, but carbon capture and storage units can prevent harmful emissions.

Green hydrogen, meanwhile, is made from splitting water using an electrolyser powered by renewable energy, thus avoiding carbon production.

GHD’s recent global report, The World of Energy Post-Covid, predicts that decarbonisation of economies will be largely dependent on successful production and utilisation of hydrogen – and specifically, green hydrogen – for a range of domestic, commercial, and industrial end uses.

This comes as countries announce hydrogen strategies, promising opportunity for evolving hydrogen and ammonia markets.

Becoming the world’s biggest producer and exporter of hydrogen is a “huge prize” that GHD says is within the grasp of the Middle East, not least because many regional states already have long established energy economies with the necessary supply chains and skilled workforces - and visionary leadership that recognises potential to reshape the planet’s energy landscape.

That potential could translate handsomely; estimates suggest that by 2050 green hydrogen exports could create up to one million jobs and generate as much as $200 billion for the region.

Bolstered by global momentum towards decarbonisation, alongside the pandemic, GHD confirms investment in renewables and clean energy solutions has accelerated.

That brings with it investors, financial institutions, and influential stakeholders, further emboldened by Cop26 and Paris Agreement goals.

The UAE Energy Strategy 2050 sets an inspiring tone, and with the country aiming to increase clean energy from 25 to 50 per cent and reduce the carbon footprint of power generation by 70 per cent, innovation is essential.

Abu Dhabi and the UAE’s enormous potential for prominence on the decarbonisation map could be achieved through embracing an efficient and globally integrated business environment, and evolving a locally grown hydrogen industry, says GHD.

Export opportunities beckon, but so does the need to develop infrastructure alongside a relevant workforce in an economy that can create and sustain ‘next generation’ jobs in the clean energy sector.

The GCC is well placed to star in this transition as the world’s largest oil and gas players are already transforming their businesses to achieve a low-carbon future across production and supply chains, while applying lessons learned in a long-established sector receptive to new technologies.

“From my side and from GHD’s side, we would like to see more projects announced from the green hydrogen perspective,” says Mr Bafis.

“You have also the potential for export facilities, you have the facilities already…from my perspective, the problem is creating the demand.”

Mr Bafis also sees need for relevant education to meet skills demands, and says talks are happening with universities and institutes about programmes “targeting specifically themes with regards to energy transition ... thinking in the new way how to generate power”.

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Various factors such as net-zero pressure, alongside population growth and energy appetite, all intensify the urgency of hydrogen to feature in the global energy mix

Overall, the oil and gas industry can either be a casualty of hydrogen growth, or help set a pace that enables human and industrial capital to transition and meet evolving demand, while maintaining a balance until such time the world is ready to fully embrace the hydrogen era with ready infrastructure.

“Everything will be driven by supply and demand,” says Mr Bafis, simply.

Yet while energy-dependent economies face a race to become leading global green energy exporters, GHD says there isn’t certainty that green hydrogen can grow quickly enough when factoring in the dual pressures of ambitious, date-sensitive net-zero targets and global energy transition complexities.

This means both green and cheaper/easier to produce blue hydrogen production must be pursued, says the company - at least in the near term to enable a switch towards a decarbonised future that feeds accelerating demand; although the long-term solution lies with the former.

Various factors such as net-zero pressure, alongside population growth and energy appetite, all intensify the urgency of hydrogen to feature in the global energy mix.

Yet the public also has to be aware it is not a magic pill, rather something to be nurtured, with education and awareness as well as big business part of the scenario.

“Public perception cannot fathom the technological aspect of what hydrogen is and what it can provide,” adds Mr Bafis.

“We cannot put it in our tank in our car, we cannot store it so easily, that's why you have to resort to some more exotic solutions.

“You have the expertise, you have the technology already, it's just a question of determination, especially from the policymakers, and we see that determination now changing.”

Updated: November 19th 2021, 6:22 AM