UAE's Masdar tells hydrogen summit a 'green wave is coming'

Hydrogen made from renewable sources tipped to overtake the type that relies on fossil fuels

Hydrogen is classed as green when it is produced from water using renewable energy sources such as wind turbines. AFP
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A "green wave is coming" to the hydrogen industry that will lead to the sought-after fuel being produced with renewable energy rather than gas, a director of Masdar, the UAE's clean energy company, said on Thursday.

Andreas Bieringer, Masdar's director of business development and commercial, said lower-carbon blue hydrogen would take some of the early "heavy lifting" as the industry grows.

But he told a summit in London that "ultimately the world will be green".

Hydrogen is widely tipped as a fuel of the future because it produces only water vapour, not carbon dioxide. There are moves to use it instead of fossil fuels in aeroplanes, ships, lorries, heavy industry and domestic heating.

But hydrogen is rarely found by itself in nature and has to be hived off from water first. If that process uses fossil fuels, there is less gain to the planet.

Some hydrogen is produced by renewable means, such as wind turbines (green hydrogen), or with natural gas combined with carbon capture and storage (blue hydrogen). But these methods are currently more expensive than unabated gas (grey hydrogen), which accounts for most global production.

The colour spectrum extends to pink (nuclear), yellow (solar) and white (rare naturally occurring hydrogen underground) among others.

The UAE has plans to become a leading supplier of green hydrogen. A test shipment of ammonia, a hydrogen compound, was exported to Germany last year.

Mr Bieringer said the market was starting to mature with subsidies such as US President Joe Biden's sprawling $369 billion green package "creating some momentum" for clean hydrogen.

However, he said the industry "would be blind to ignore" that some countries and sectors would not immediately use the green kind.

No small task

Gauri Singh, a deputy director general of the Abu Dhabi-based International Renewable Energy Agency, said the cost of green was currently two to three times higher than blue.

She said the amount of renewable energy needed to meet future green hydrogen demand was about equal to the world's total electricity supply today – "not a small ask", she said.

Mr Bieringer said the nascent hydrogen industry was in a "time for pragmatism and not dogmatism".

"Green is coming. Ultimately the world will be green. It will take maybe a bit longer than we thought," Mr Bieringer said.

"But if the blue is helping to do the heavy lifting, helping to carry some of the investment, especially for expansion of the infrastructures, that will pave the way for the green wave that is ultimately going to come.”

His remarks were echoed by several speakers at Thursday's Investing in Green Hydrogen summit in London. Axel Wietfeld, the chief executive of Germany's Uniper, said there was a convincing case for using blue hydrogen as a "bridging technology" even though "the endgame will be primarily green".

The use of hydrogen instead of fossil fuels is being pioneered in transport but it is currently produced only in small and expensive quantities. AFP

Didier Holleaux, a vice president of France's Engie – a partner of Masdar – said using natural gas and carbon capture made it possible to "develop the economy quicker, even if at some point in time you may decide – in 10 years, 20 years – that blue hydrogen is out of the picture".

"In the meantime, if there is no blue hydrogen you slow down the whole process of developing the hydrogen economy," he said.

Driss Berraho, the head of green hydrogen at Saudi Arabia's Acwa Power, said the company was "100 per cent convinced" there would be a market for the fuel. There are plans to produce green ammonia in Saudi megacity Neom.

Fast-tracking the energy transition is one of the UAE's priorities for Cop28 in Dubai. The summit's President-designate and Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology, Dr Sultan Al Jaber, is the chairman of Masdar.

Updated: September 14, 2023, 2:07 PM