How Cop28 is setting the stage for the global hydrogen trade

The UAE will help other nations in exporting hydrogen, primarily green hydrogen, Energy Minister says

Hydrogen storage tanks at Iberdola's Puertollano green hydrogen plant in Spain. Bloomberg
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A series of hydrogen initiatives were announced at the Cop28 climate conference on Tuesday, aimed at boosting the production and trade of the low-carbon fuel.

More than 30 countries, representing about 80 per cent of the future global market in hydrogen, signed a declaration of intent, under which states have agreed to endorse a global certification standard for hydrogen and to recognise existing certification schemes.

The countries also signed a public-private action statement on hydrogen, which will focus on accelerating permissions for hydrogen projects and creating more demand for the commodity.

“The biggest challenge in decarbonisation is providing [an] alternative fuel that is clean and available at scale at the right price,” Suhail Al Mazrouei, UAE Minister of Energy and Infrastructure, told delegates during a hydrogen roundtable at the summit.

“The consumer is going to be the judge of how good a work we are doing in helping to ensure that it's affordable. If it's not affordable, no matter what we do, it's not going to have the success that we aspire for.”

Hydrogen, which can be produced using both renewable energy and natural gas, is expected to be a critical fuel of the future, particularly in hard-to-abate sectors such as steel manufacturing and shipping.

Its ability to efficiently store energy makes it appealing for renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, both of which are naturally intermittent.

After being produced, a certification system enables end users and governments to determine the source and quality of the hydrogen.

However, current hydrogen certification systems are not suitable for cross-border trade due to gaps in design, standards and labelling, leading to insufficient information about the product as far as potential buyers are concerned.

Hydrogen, and particularly, green hydrogen, is currently more expensive than natural gas due to lack of production and supply constraints.

Most of it is due to a shortage of electrolysers – devices that use electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.

However, there is more than 400 gigawatts of electrolysis capacity that could be operational by 2030, compared with only 1 gigawatt currently, according to an International Energy Agency official.

“There is a reality check here, which is, at the moment, only 3 per cent of those have reached the stage of taking a final investment decision,” said Dan Dorner, head of Strategic Initiatives Office at the agency.

“International co-operations are therefore absolutely of paramount importance to overcome barriers that are preventing a faster adoption of low emissions hydrogen.”

French investment bank Natixis estimates investment in hydrogen will exceed $300 billion by 2030.

International Standards Organisation methodology for the greenhouse gas emissions assessment of hydrogen was also launched on Tuesday.

These guidelines could serve as the initial framework for a series of additional regulations at both national and state levels, shaping the direction of hydrogen production.

“This is a truly international methodology for assessing the GHG footprint of hydrogen from well to consumption gate including every delivery gate on a life-cycle analysis basis,” said Ulrika Francke, president of the ISO.

“It helps us to create a common international language around hydrogen and allows the least carbon-intensive solutions to shine.”

Almost one quarter of global hydrogen demand – about 150 megatonnes per year – will be met through international trade by 2050, while the remaining 75 per cent will be domestically produced and consumed, the International Renewable Energy Agency said in a report last year.

The hydrogen trade scenario will be a significant change from today’s oil market, where the bulk – nearly three quarters – is internationally traded, the Abu Dhabi-based agency said at the time.

Hydrogen deals

Energy companies have announced several hydrogen agreements during the Cop28 summit.

Abu Dhabi’s clean energy company Masdar and Spain’s Iberdrola have signed a €15 billion ($16.25 billion) partnership to evaluate the development of offshore wind and green hydrogen projects in key markets including Germany, the UK and the US.

Masdar also signed a joint development agreement with Jordan to develop a 1-gigawatt wind project with battery storage, and an agreement to explore the feasibility of establishing a green hydrogen plant.

The UAE’s state-owned energy company Adnoc and Azerbaijan signed an agreement to explore opportunities in blue hydrogen, carbon management and geothermal technologies.

The Emirates, the Arab world’s second-largest economy, aims to achieve hydrogen production of 1.4 million tonnes annually by 2031, increasing to 15 million tonnes a year by 2050.

The country is planning to develop at least two hydrogen production hubs, or oases, by 2031.

More than 70 per cent of the country’s hydrogen production will be green, Mr Al Mazrouei said.

“Hydrogen for us in the UAE is definitely one of the solutions … we will help other nations as well in exporting hydrogen, primarily green hydrogen,” he said.

Updated: December 06, 2023, 6:15 AM