Masdar eyes green hydrogen boom to beat 2030 target

Abu Dhabi company expects green hydrogen to become a cheaper, in-demand future fuel

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Abu Dhabi clean energy company Masdar is hoping to beat a 2030 green hydrogen target in a boom fuelled by new technology and the race to cut emissions, The National has been told.

Faye Al Hersh, Masdar’s head of business development for green hydrogen in the UAE, said hydrogen will be in demand as the “only option” for some industries to replace fossil fuels.

She said Masdar expects the cost of the alternative fuel to fall from its expensive levels today, as the company aims for a million tonnes of production capacity by 2030.

The target is “definitely one that we aim to meet and to exceed”, she said.

The UAE, and several other countries in the Middle East and North Africa, are positioning themselves as future hydrogen sellers to Europe and the world market.

Potential buyers include the shipping and aviation sectors, which are near-impossible to connect to an electricity grid.

To count as green hydrogen it must be made by renewable means – for example by using wind or solar power to split it off from water in a machine called an electrolyser.

The green route provides only 0.1 per cent of the world’s small hydrogen supply today, which comes mainly from gas (known as blue or grey hydrogen, which is cheaper). It is used chiefly in refining and chemicals.

However, Dr Al Hersh believes the industry is moving from an era of planning and overhyped expectations to a point of “maturation in the market”.

Speaking to The National at a World Hydrogen summit in Rotterdam in the Netherlands, she said Masdar expects the cost of electrolysers to fall as the technology improves.

“What we anticipate on that front is an improvement in the efficiency, which will make the overall process more efficient,” she said.

One issue with electrolysers is the fact they typically use rare metals such as platinum and iridium.

“The key to this innovation wave, which I believe is going to happen quite quickly, is to get those metals out of the system,” said Mark Hutchinson, chief executive of metals and energy company Fortescue.

Hope of high demand

Masdar sees steelmakers as a likely “demand centre” for green hydrogen and is also targeting the shipping industry and makers of alternative jet fuels.

It believes companies will want to be “early movers” because a time will come when there is not enough hydrogen to go around, as the world battles to combat climate change.

Whether buyers choose green, blue or another kind of hydrogen will depend not only on the price but also on their desire to cut emissions, Dr Al Hersh said.

“Obviously, a greener product would be more expensive right now than its counterparts, other colours of hydrogen, but it is also one that would provide the most decarbonisation, the least carbon intensity.”

Besides electrolysers, a second factor is the availability of clean energy, which should be boosted by a pledge made at Cop28 in Dubai to treble the world’s renewable firepower by 2030.

A “big chunk” of that clean power could go towards hydrogen production and the Cop28 deal gives the industry “positive momentum”, Dr Al Hersh said.

Middle East strengths

Countries in the Middle East and North Africa tout the easy availability of solar power, as well as existing energy links to Europe, as they jostle to be future sellers.

European countries such as Germany, France and Austria have signalled interest in a “southern corridor” to buy hydrogen across the Mediterranean.

Egypt was on Tuesday making plans to work with the Netherlands on hydrogen, while Morocco urges European partners to turn to trans-Mediterranean pipelines.

The UAE and the Netherlands were leading talks on how to boost trade that heard cross-border sales in hydrogen could wipe $3.7 trillion off costs.

“The Middle East plays a massive role, and North Africa does, in the energy transition of Europe,” said Mr Hutchinson of Fortescue, which has interests in Morocco, Oman, Egypt and Jordan.

“You’ve got to go to those places which are politically very stable, so Morocco fits the bill for North Africa.”

The UAE has meanwhile “demonstrated time and time again” that it can generate cheap solar power, said Dr Al Hersh, and now has wind in the mix after opening new turbines on the eve of Cop28.

It also benefits from free space, infrastructure, a reputation as a reliable partner and a domestic net-zero drive, as well as its place as an aviation hub, she said.

The aviation link means the UAE is seen by companies such as Britain’s Rolls-Royce as a potential place to make sustainable jet fuel for cleaner air travel.

“We have our own decarbonisation targets in the UAE, we have the net-zero target, we have some industries which have very strong ambitions when it comes to decarbonisation,” Dr Al Hersh said. "We also have a strong aviation hub which also looks towards sustainable aviation fuel.

“But we also have a commitment towards the global community, to support their decarbonisation efforts. We can basically expand our production in order to serve the demand elsewhere as well, through exports.”

Updated: May 17, 2024, 8:40 AM