Large-scale hydrogen projects on the Arabian Peninsula

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Oman and Saudi Arabia’s plans to export solar energy

Sun-soaked countries around the world are inevitably destined for solar-powered hydrogen production. Yet while many look to Australia, Chile or Morocco as prime locations, the Middle East is also gaining attention. Nations such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Sultanate of Oman, well known for their bountiful oil resources, have now recognized another useful asset – their copious sunshine – and one which is ideally suited to making hydrogen.

Many Arab states have grown rich on their large oil deposits. As supplies dwindle, these times of plenty will at some point come to an end – something that Oman is currently experiencing. The country’s reserves will last only a few more years, with natural gas already being imported. Other Arab nations, too, have now become aware that it will only be economical to lift oil for a limited number of years and that natural gas extraction is also becoming more laborious. The exportation of solar energy could therefore be a suitable alternative to oil shipments, even though hydrogen was practically unheard of in these regions until just a few years ago.

Oman under pressure to act

With a view to opening up these new markets, Bernd Wiemann founded the Hydrogen Rise AG startup in 2018. Wiemann, who for many years held management positions at Mannesmann and Vodafone and had previously established the fuel cell company P21 in 2001, is well connected in the Middle East. Therefore his aim, he told H2-international, is to forge sustainable value creation on the Arabian Peninsula.

Wiemann intends to supply the requisite technology and know-how to Oman so that money can be generated domestically. For this reason, the Munich-based entrepreneur set up the Oman subsidiary, Hydrogen Rise LLC, in the capital Muscat. In addition, he is already in talks with large German electrolyzer manufacturers about siting these plants in Oman, explained Frank Sreball, who deputized for Wiemann as director of Green Hydrogen Economics until August 2020. The water that would be needed by the electrolyzers would then be produced from seawater by means of desalination plants. “Hydrogen Rise offers this country of 5 million residents a strategy for developing a new energy economy,” said Sreball.

One of the ensuing initiatives has included the setup of the Oman Hydrogen Center in Muscat on the campus of the German Technical University. In January 2020, both Sheikh Abdullah bin Mohammed al-Salmi, minister for religious affairs, and Mohammed bin Hamad al-Rumhi, minister for oil and gas, took part in the opening ceremony.
Although the pandemic has made contact in the Arab world difficult in recent months, in May 2021 another consortium comprising companies from Hong Kong, Kuwait and Oman announced its intention to start a 25-gigawatt project to make green hydrogen and export it in the form of ammonia. Preparations for this endeavor have been ongoing for more than three years. According to a press release: “Renewable power generation will benefit from very high and stable levels of solar and wind energy, exhibiting the optimal diurnal profile of strong wind at night and reliable sun during the day. The project is also located near the coast for seawater intake and electrolysis.”

… Read more in the latest H2-International e-Journal, May 2021

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