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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

Hydrogen could play bigger role in Middle East energy transition

The UAE is undertaking a pilot project to produce the gas using solar photovoltaic technology

Siemens sees hydrogen as a game changer in many countries' energy mix, including powering transport. Reem Mohammed/The National
Siemens sees hydrogen as a game changer in many countries' energy mix, including powering transport. Reem Mohammed/The National

The Middle East could potentially endorse more industrial and commercial use of hydrogen, a transition fuel being optimised in de-nuclearising economies globally, according to German industrial engineering company Siemens.

“In terms of interests from the region, it is changing. We started from western Europe and we realised there was a big demand in Australia and then there was a big interest from the Middle East,” said Klaus Scheffer, Siemens project lead for Energiepark Mainz, the world’s largest hydrogen electrolysis facility based in Germany.

“The Middle East has certain advantages as the region can produce very cheap electricity from the Sun, which is not the case for western Europe.”

There is already interest in hydrogen in the UAE. Last year, the first hydrogen car refilling station in the country opened in Dubai, at a cost of $2 million.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - OCT 11: The Middle East region's first hydrogen refilling station. It was unveiled today at Toyota's showroom in Al Badia, in partnership with France's Air Liquide. The initiative is in line with the UAE Vision 2021, aimed to raise the country's contribution to the world's clean energy drive and reduce dependence on fossil fuel. (Photo by Reem Mohammed/The National) Reporter: LeAnne Graves / Adam Workman Section: NA & BZ
The Middle East region's first hydrogen refilling station at Toyota's showroom in Al Badia, Dubai. Reem Mohammed/The National

Japan, which began its transition away from nuclear power stations after the Fukushima disaster in 2011, is rethinking its energy systems as well, Mr Scheffer said.

To produce the gas safely, an electric current is passed through acidic water to split its hydrogen atoms from oxygen, a process called electrolysis. Hydrogen gas is then collected and stored, ready for use in power generation. Siemens is one of the global companies developing turbine technology to use stored hydrogen fuel.

The German industrial firm, which has plans to develop a hydrogen economy in the Middle East, is seeking opportunities in the region for this technology.

The Middle East, which accounts for nearly 35 per cent of the global oil production, is undergoing a transition to a greener economy to free up more crude for export. Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest sovereign producer of oil, has plans to invest as much as $7 billion in solar and wind projects this year alone. The UAE, which relies on gas to power 98 per cent of its utility requirements, aims to generate 75 per cent of its energy from clean sources by 2050 and plans to invest around Dh50bn in such projects.

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Siemens is already promoting more hybrid sources of clean fuel. In February, the company signed an agreement with Dubai Electricity and Water Authority for a pilot solar-driven hydrogen electrolysis facility at Mohammed bin Rashid Solar Park.

The project aims to produce hydrogen using solar photovoltaic technology. The gas will then be stored and used for transport or other industrial needs. Hydrogen has the potential to help accelerate adoption of renewables in the region, Dewa said earlier this year.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - OCT 11: The Middle East region's first hydrogen refilling pump station. It was unveiled today at Toyota's showroom in Al Badia, in partnership with France's Air Liquide. The initiative is in line with the UAE Vision 2021, aimed to raise the country's contribution to the world's clean energy drive and reduce dependence on fossil fuel. (Photo by Reem Mohammed/The National) Reporter: LeAnne Graves / Adam Workman Section: NA & BZ
Hydrogen is being seen as a potential transport game-changer

Dubai plans to take hydrogen-fuelled transport more mainstream by using fuel-cell vehicles that run on the "green" hydrogen generated by the pilot scheme during the Expo 2020.

The hydogen-powered Toyota Mirai last year made its debut in the UAE in collaboration with its UAE dealership Al-Futtaim, Abu Dhabi’s Masdar City and French fuel multinational Air Liquide.

Toyota's Mirai has an electric motor over the front wheels, fuel cell under the front seats and a high pressure hydrogen tank beneath the rears. Courtesy Toyota
Toyota's Mirai has an electric motor over the front wheels, fuel cell under the front seats and a high pressure hydrogen tank beneath the rears. Courtesy Toyota

The use of hydrogen in cars will be a game changer. Ninety per cent of the fuel is used in the industrial sector, more prominently in the oil and gas, and refining sectors. Metal smelting and fertiliser productions are also finding more applications for hydrogen fuel.