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Dawn of a hydrogen economy in Oman

EJAAD, a collaborative hub for research and innovation, has been tasked by the Ministry of Energy and Minerals to develop a feasibility study centring on the potential for hydrogen as a new, decarbonised and sustainable economic engine for Oman. 

A relative novice in the global race to embrace hydrogen as the ‘revolutionary fuel of the future’, Oman is pulling out the stops in its quest to become a significant key player in the production, consumption and export of this environmental-friendly fuel on an industrial scale.

Over the course of the past 12 months, a number of landmark initiatives have been unveiled that should effectively cement a pathway for the establishment of a hydrogen-centric economy in the Sultanate, bolstered by a promising ecosystem encompassing technological innovation, R&D and high-end skills development. Underlying this effort is a broader strategic national ambition to enable Oman’s transition away from fossil fuels -- long the mainstay of its economic development -- towards ‘Green Hydrogen’.  

The mandate to develop a ‘Hydrogen Economy’ feasibility study for the Sultanate has been given to EJAAD, a centre that connects the government, industry and academia in the pursuit of scientific research and innovation, establishment of new economies, and delivery of focused programmes that make the industry more competitive and sustainable. Established in 2017, EJAAD is a joint initiative of the Ministry of Energy and Minerals, Petroleum Development Oman (PDO) and the Ministry of Higher Education, Scientific Research and Innovation (incorporating the erstwhile Research Council).  It currently has more than 60 stakeholders from the government, industry and academia whom have signed a shared vision and collaboration protocol.  

According to Dr. Sausan Al-Riyami, Renewable Energy Expert, EJAAD has been tapped to craft a strategy for kick starting the growth of a hydrogen economy in the Sultanate. To this end, EJAAD has been looking to collaborate with local industries, international partners, academia and R&D centres. An immediate goal, Dr. Al-Riyami told delegates at an international conference (International Gas Union Research Conference 2020) earlier this year, is to commission a feasibility study into this ambitious endeavour.

In her presentation, titled ‘Hydrogen as a Next Step for Gas: Oman Hydrogen Economy’, Dr. Al-Riyami listed a number of “drivers” that augur well for the growth of a hydrogen economy locally and globally simultaneously.  International interest in hydrogen, she said, has been bolstered by a burgeoning global push to limit carbon emissions blamed for an uptick in global warming and climate change.  In line with this goal, as many as 66 countries to date have committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050, she noted. 

Another contributory factor is the rapidly plummeting cost of renewables. Furthermore, electrolysis – the technique of using electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen – is projected to grow 55-fold by 2025 versus figures from 2015.  Likewise, countries around the world are drafting ambitious national roadmaps for the adoption of hydrogen in their GDP growth, while energy and technology corporations are forging alliances to harness synergies and opportunities. 

Dr. Al-Riyami foresees commercial-scale hydrogen use in the following key segments:

Transportation: encompassing vehicles for urban transport, passenger trains, heavy duty trucks, buses, coaches for long distance transportation, forklifts, regional ferries, and fuels for aviation

Heat and Power for Buildings: including hydrogen boilers, hybrid heat pumps, fuel cell based CHP, and blending with hydrogen in natural gas boilers

Heat and Power for Industry: covering hydrogen turbines, hydrogen furnaces, and fuel cell based remote generators)

Industrial Feedstock: for low carbon ammonia production, steel production, refining, and methanol production.

Boding well for Oman is the promising outlook for the production of ‘Green Hydrogen’ from renewables.  By 2030, renewables-based capacity will account for around 30 per cent of total electricity production. 

EJAAD, for its part, has already begun exploring potential partnerships with local and international key players. A framework for the Hydrogen Economy is proposed to be based on six key pillars: (a) Building momentum through near term opportunities -- local, regional and international  (b) Deepening the understanding of technical, economic, environmental and social aspects of hydrogen for the national economy (c) Establishing required supply chain industries (d) Creating the right environment for investors (e) Formulating policies, regulations, required technical infrastructure to support a hydrogen R& D ecosystem, and (f) Defining strategic partnerships to create the Oman Hydrogen Economy Framework, added Dr. Al-Riyami.

Embryonic growth

While the coronavirus outbreak and associated economic downtown seem to have robbed the Green Hydrogen initiative of some of its initial momentum, a raft of initiatives announced just before the pandemic promise to position this emerging industry strongly for growth in the future.

Earlier this year, a number of stakeholders joined hands to establish a local Omani company to support the development and commercialisation of hydrogen as a zero-emission energy source as well as feedstock for use in various industrial and petrochemical applications.

Hydrogen Rise Oman LLC was created as a partnership of Hydrogen Rise AG, a prominent German firm specialising in hydrogen fuel technologies, and Oman Educational Services LLC, a local company that owns, among other educational institutions, the German University of Technology in Oman (GUtech). The MoU signing took place on the sidelines of the inauguration at GUtech of the Oman Hydrogen Centre – a first-of-its-kind international competence hub dedicated to supporting education, research and technology inflows aimed at creating a new economy around the use of ‘Green Hydrogen’ in the Sultanate. 

A future hydrogen industry in the Sultanate, according to Hydrogen Rise, has the potential to spawn the growth of a wider ecosystem that supports investments in industrial and petrochemical projects producing green hydrogen, green ammonia and synthetic fuel, among other decarbonised commodities. 

In addition, the hydrogen economy will support the growth of an ecosystem encompassing, among other opportunities, storage of hydrogen in deep caverns, pipeline systems, grid injection, and water management.  The Sultanate has the potential to export $20 billion worth of hydrogen annually by the year 2050.

Sohar Port and Freezone, for its part, has confirmed that it is exploring avenues for small-scale production of hydrogen as an alternative to fossil fuels primarily in transportation. The port authority says it is weighing options for hydrogen use as fuel vehicles, forklifts and so on. Longer term, it sees the potential to ‘green hydrogen’ with solar electricity probably via electrolysers, and then bring it to the port.

Mega development

On the heels of the Omani-German initiative came the momentous announcement out of Belgium that a consortium of companies plans set up a large-scale ‘green hydrogen’ project in the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Duqm on the Sultanate’s south-eastern coast.

DEME Concessions, a subsidiary of Belgian headquartered global conglomerate DEME Group, said it has forged an “exclusive partnership” with Omani investors to support the development of a green hydrogen plant in Duqm.  With a proposed electrolyser capacity estimated between 250 and 500 megawatts (MW), the project will rank among the largest of its kind in the Middle East, it stated. 

The proposed ‘[email protected]’ project will be world-scale in size and capacity, according to DEME Concessions. “The facility will significantly contribute to the decarbonisation of the regional chemical industry in Oman, as well as providing green hydrogen and/or derivatives (such as green methanol or ammonia) to international customers in Europe, for example in the Port of Antwerp. The envisaged electrolyser capacity for a first phase is estimated between 250 and 500 MW. Following this first phase, upscaling of the installation is foreseen. The advantage of the location in Duqm is the availability of cheap renewable energy (solar and wind), as well as large, accessible sites (on- and offshore).”

As a first step in the delivery of the project, DEME Concessions has commissioned global consulting firm Roland Berger to oversee an in-depth feasibility study that will ascertain customer offtake choices, technology options, electricity feed-in options, hydrogen (derivatives) shipping options and to define the concept and scope of the commercial scale demonstration project. 

“The feasibility phase will be followed by the detailed design and engineering, further project development and finalisation of offtake routes and financing. A Final Investment Decision for the commercial scale demonstration project is expected during 2021,” it added.

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