Authors: Adam Evans, Dereck Dombo & Syahrul Saad
Hydrogen has long been championed as a potential source of low to zero-emissions energy as part of a net zero world. Until now, the cost of producing green hydrogen has been a limiting factor. Two new projects, one in Saudi Arabia and the other in Namibia, provide insight into how a truly green hydrogen economy might be built.
Is the time right for hydrogen power?
As a clean fuel for transportation and energy storage, hydrogen has a higher energy content by weight compared to other fuels: 120MJ per kg compared to 44MJ per kg for gasoline. When consumed in fuel cells, hydrogen produces only water as a by-product. It also has the flexibility to be stored either in small quantities or on a large scale using various methods.
In the wider context of a global move towards net zero carbon, a wide range of renewable energy sources (RES) have attracted attention in recent years. These include geothermal, hydro, wind, and solar power. Key factors in this drive towards net zero include declines in grid-connected synchronous generation, technological advancements and deteriorating environmental circumstances.
While hydrogen has been used as an energy source for a long time – and has all the right qualities to make it attractive in the drive towards net zero carbon – not all hydrogen can claim to have the same beneficial impact on net-zero targets.
In assessing the net zero credentials of hydrogen as a fuel, let’s consider the three stages of the hydrogen economy: production, storage, and transportation.
There are various methods for producing hydrogen, and these are mostly distinguished by the source or feedstock that is employed.
- Fossil fuels are used to produce grey hydrogen.
- Fossil fuels combined with carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) produce blue hydrogen.
- Renewable energy sources produce green hydrogen.
- Nuclear makes purple hydrogen.
- Synthetic gas from coal produces black hydrogen .
Of these, green hydrogen is the cleanest form of the gas, creating fewer emissions or having less environmental impact than other production methods.
Hydrogen storage and transportation
The light density of the gas means that adequate safe storage techniques must be created for the gas to be transported to other nations or utilized domestically. So, hydrogen storage is a significant issue that needs to be considered alongside the methods of production.
Storage technologies available include compressed gas, cold compression, liquid hydrogen storage, metal-organic frameworks, and metal hydrides. There will likely be a greater need for hydrogen in the coming years. While it’s possible to transport hydrogen via existing natural gas pipelines, methods of hydrogen transportation1 have a significant influence on how and where hydrogen should be safely stored.
Next, we’ll look at two major projects that are adopting a similar approach to hydrogen transportation which will provide useful insights into how a green hydrogen economy could work.
NEOM green hydrogen
NEOM is a new smart city being built in the Tabuk region of Saudi Arabia, on the northeastern coast of the Red Sea. Here, the NEOM Green Hydrogen Company (NGHC) is building one of the world’s largest green-hydrogen ammonia production facilities, operating on renewable energy. By the end of 2026 the USD 8.4 Billion NEOM Green Hydrogen Project is expected to produce up to 600 tonnes per day of carbon-free hydrogen running on four (4) gigawatts (GW) of solar and wind energy integrated with a 20MW electrolysis plant.
The plant will be producing around 1.2 million tonnes of green ammonia per year, an easily transportable derivative of hydrogen, ready to be transported around the world as part of a cost-effective solution to the production of green hydrogen.
Overall, the project is anticipated to prevent around five million metric tonnes of carbon emissions (CO2) per year as a result of green hydrogen displacing fossil fuels in the heavy-duty transportation and industrial sectors.
Namibia hydrogen project
In Africa, Namibia plans to construct wind farms and solar photovoltaic (PV) plants with a combined projected capacity of 7 GW to manufacture green ammonia.
The project’s estimated capital investment is $10 billion, almost equivalent to Namibia’s annual GDP, which demonstrates both the ambition and magnitude of the project. Planned for completion over the next decade, the plant is expected to produce 2 million tonnes of green ammonia per year for regional and global markets5. However, there are doubts about Namibia’s ability to offer a cost-competitive product given local water shortages and its remote location from important export markets.
Ammonia transportation is being considered for both Saudi Arabian and Namibian projects because it is an economical way to move hydrogen, progressing toward the development of a significant hydrogen economy on a global scale. At this scale, hydrogen could be used as another alternative energy source to decarbonize various energy-intensive sectors and satisfy CO2 emission-level requirements. Projects like NEOM and Namibia both demonstrate the growing potential and significance that hydrogen could gain in the near future.
How PSC can help with the implementation of hydrogen projects
As energy transition experts, PSC can help with studies related to the integration of hydrogen projects, as well as the integration of renewable and storage technologies.