An ambitious project demonstrating the potential of alternative approaches to energy production is under way in Abu Dhabi. Near Jebel Dhana, about 250km west of the capital, plans are at an advanced stage for the world's first hydrogen power station. Construction is scheduled to start later this year. Bringing together proven technologies for the first time, Hydrogen Power Abu Dhabi has the potential to produce clean electricity from fossil fuel by capturing carbon dioxide on a scale equivalent to taking all the cars off the roads of the UAE's largest emirate: 1.7 million tonnes a year.
The captured CO2 would be used by Abu Dhabi National Oil Company in a related project which will help the emirate use its oil and gas resources more efficiently. The US$2 billion (Dh7.4bn) project is a joint venture between Masdar and the Hydrogen Energy unit of BP, a venture set up to develop a new generation of hydrogen-fueled power stations. That enterprise plans to produce hydrogen by using superheated steam to treat fossil fuels such as natural gas, coal and petroleum coke.
A key feature of the technology is that the carbon dioxide that is a by-product would be captured and stored deep underground; this means big coal users, such as the US, China and India, could continue to burn fossil fuels in power plants while reducing their carbon footprints. The plant will run on steam-treated natural gas, chemically converted into hydrogen and CO2. While the hydrogen is used to generate electricity, more than 90 per cent of the C02 will be compressed and hydrated before being permanently trapped underground beneath a natural impervious seal.
It will be carried by pipeline from the plant and injected into an Abu Dhabi oilfield, replacing the natural gas currently pumped underground to maintain oil flow from the reservoir, enhancing the oil recovery process and potentially adding two billion barrels to Abu Dhabi's roughly 94bn barrels of proved oil reserves.