Many governments and businesses seek to be carbon neutral by 2050.
As a result, hydrogen is viewed as a critical component in making industry, freight traffic, and transportation more sustainable. It’s still unclear how large the need for hydrogen will be. However, tiny nations, such as Belgium, will virtually certainly have to import hydrogen due to a shortage of renewable energy.
Green hydrogen may be produced in countries with a lot of renewable energy potential. ‘There are prospects for manufacturing sites in Southern Europe,’ says René Peters, a hydrogen expert at TNO in the Netherlands. ‘Take, for example, Italy, Spain, and Portugal. Iceland then considers geothermal and hydroelectric energy sources.’
European initiatives, on the other hand, have gotten off to a sluggish start. They appear to respond more quickly outside of Europe. ‘Hydrogen provides prospects for places with a lot of light and space, where solar and wind energy may be generated affordably,’ says Frans Rooijers of the CE Delft environmental research agency.
The transition might help minimize reliance on geopolitically volatile oil and gas-producing regimes. ‘You have more options with hydrogen since it can be generated in more areas and isn’t reliant on subsurface deposits,’ Peters explains. ‘The large number of countries who are totally committed to hydrogen will ease tensions,’ he believes.
Thijs Van de Graaf’s work as a researcher at Ghent University and a consultant at the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) exemplifies how quickly worldwide hydrogen plans have progressed. He issued a paper on the geopolitical implications of the energy transition in 2019. At the time, hydrogen was scarcely a consideration. He’s now looking at the geopolitical implications of hydrogen.
According to Van de Graaf, only Japan had a hydrogen strategy four years ago. ‘At this point, about 40 nations have adopted such an approach.
When green energy is converted to hydrogen, a significant amount of energy is wasted. To obtain the same result, substantially more energy is required. In some industrial processes, such as the production of steel or aluminum, hydrogen is a natural choice. However, Van de Graaf believes that efforts to cook with hydrogen or have passenger automobiles operate on hydrogen are foolish. ‘Among the energy carriers, green hydrogen is the champagne: it is a magnificent resource, but it is also quite expensive. ‘Only on rare instances.’
Nonetheless, the European Union is highly excited about the creation of a hydrogen economy, as evidenced, among other things, by the new Fit For 55 initiative. Because, aside from the climate debate – ‘otherwise, we wouldn’t be looking into hydrogen at all,’ adds Van de Graaf – there is also a political factor to consider. ‘China has a commanding position in solar panels,’ says Van de Graaf. Europe, on the other hand, aspires to be a technical leader in the field of hydrogen.’
The traditional oil-producing countries are not idling. A worldwide center for green hydrogen will be created near to the projected megacity of Neom in the northwest of Saudi Arabia, in an area the size of Belgium. The oil state said last year that it will construct a plant worth over 4 billion euros. By 2026, it should be fully functioning.
‘Geologically, a nation like Saudi Arabia has won the jackpot twice: first with its oil riches, and now with its solar energy prospects,’ says Van de Graaf. These countries get the benefits of current infrastructure. Ports and infrastructure for loading gasoline onto ships are already in place. Morocco, Chile, and Namibia, for example, do not have this benefit.’
Siemens and the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority built up a test installation in Dubai specifically for the global expo, which opened last month. “People were already talking about hydrogen at the start of the project in 2018, but not on the same scale as today,” says Dietmar Siersdorfer, head of Siemens Energy in the Middle East. ‘In the next five to 10 years, this industry will grow significantly.’
By 2030, Dubai expects to have invested 11.7 billion euros and will have a production capacity of 5,000 megawatts. Exporters of oil and gas, according to Siersdorfer, will eventually become exporters of hydrogen. Siemens is also looking at other Middle Eastern locations, such as Abu Dhabi and Egypt, for this. Chile, on the other hand, has said that it has high objectives. By 2030, it wants to be the world’s cheapest hydrogen production. And Australia has already begun exporting liquid hydrogen, but it is still made from filthy lignite.
Although more nations are able to manufacture energy in the form of hydrogen, the researcher warns that there are geopolitical risks. Because there is now no global market for hydrogen, there will be a slew of bilateral trade agreements in the future years, including pipelines and trade flows between nations. Interdependence and vulnerability grow as a result.
Van de Graaf gives the example of Germany, which signed a hydrogen supply arrangement with Morocco last year. The European Union and that country then got into a diplomatic spat over the status of Western Sahara. Morocco’s jurisdiction over the territory is not recognized by Germany. Morocco was not pleased, therefore migrants were allowed to enter the country’s Spanish enclaves. ‘What are they doing with the energy supply if they’re managing a flood of refugees?’
In general, he believes that geopolitical vulnerability would be significant in the early years, which will impede nations’ foreign policy. ‘Do you levy sanctions against countries that you rely on?’ Certain industries in Europe, such as heavy industry and chemicals, are momentarily more exposed as a result of this. ‘As long as there is no global market, the dependency is significant.’