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UAE to produce nuclear-powered pink hydrogen

Workers at the Barakah Nuclear Plant in Abu Dhabi. Heat from the plant is used in the electrolysis process to produce hydrogen Wam
Workers at the Barakah Nuclear Plant in Abu Dhabi. Heat from the plant is used in the electrolysis process to produce hydrogen
  • UAE planning ‘hydrogen oases’
  • 1.4m tonnes per year by 2031
  • Japan and Germany among buyers

The UAE is investigating the production of pink hydrogen, which is generated through electrolysis powered by nuclear energy.

“We are conducting studies to produce pink hydrogen by capitalising on the heat from our nuclear plants,” said Sharif Salim Al Olama, undersecretary for energy and petroleum affairs in the energy and infrastructure ministry.

The country already produces blue and grey hydrogen, which are made from natural gas, and green, created through the electrolysis of water.

The UAE unveiled its updated national hydrogen strategy in July. The blueprint is a crucial tool in achieving its commitment to net zero by 2050 and is a part of a wider plan to treble use of renewables by 2030.

Speaking at the Energy Markets Forum in Fujairah on Wednesday, Al Olama said that the UAE hopes to produce 1.4 million tonnes of hydrogen per annum by 2031. The country is aiming to generate 15 million tonnes by 2050.

Hydrogen will slash emissions in sectors such as heavy industry, road transport, aviation and sea freight.

There are seven projects in different levels of maturity across the country, Al Olama said, as it attempts to meet demand for both domestic use and exports.

The plants will be developed in centres called hydrogen oases. 

Two hubs have already been identified: one in Ruwais and the other in Kizad, Abu Dhabi. A third could be established in Fujairah, according to Al Olama.

Sharif Salim Al Olama, UAE undersecretary for energy and petroleum affairsWam
Sharif Salim Al Olama, UAE undersecretary for energy and petroleum affairs

He added that Fujairah – the third largest bunkering port in the world – has the required infrastructure and storage facilities. Its geographical location also facilitates the import of equipment needed to produce and export hydrogen.

Al Olama said also that the Gulf state plans to operate its current infrastructure of gas pipelines to transport hydrogen. 

Hydrogen market

Although hydrogen production remains small, the UAE has established partnerships with Germany, Japan and South Korea to export its future production. 

“All these countries have huge hydrogen demand,” Al Olama said. “Japan by the year 2030 will require around 2 to 3 million tonnes of hydrogen. That will go up to 12 by 2040 and to 20 by 2050. The same for India.”

Abu Dhabi state oil producer Adnoc has already shipped test cargoes of blue ammonia to Hamburg in Germany and to Japan.

The hydrogen market is nascent and needs the establishment of international standards and regulations, said Al Olama. He added that the UAE is working with the International Partnership for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells and other organisations, including the EU Commission, to agree on a standard certification process.

There is a major buzz around the gas, seen as a solution to decarbonising the planet and fighting global warming.

Despite its popularity as a sustainable fuel, hydrogen production is still mainly based on fossil fuels. Only the green and pink varieties can be produced from renewable energy.

However, high production costs and challenges related to its transportation and storage mean projects are not yet scalable. 

“We need cheap energy to produce green hydrogen,” Al Olama said. “We are trying to find solutions to bring that cost down.”

Opec at Cop28

The UAE remains the third largest oil producer in Opec and is undertaking a massive expansion of its oil and gas production. But it has plans to increase renewables in the energy mix.

Ahead of the Cop28 climate summit in Dubai later this year, oil producers have stressed the need to invest in oil, gas and renewables to ensure a “just, inclusive and realistic energy transition”.

“We believe in renewables, they will expand. But oil will remain an integral part in the energy mix,” said Opec secretary general Haitham Al Ghais in Fujairah, where he presented the 2023 Opec energy outlook.

The organisation expects global energy demand to grow by 23 percent by 2045. It forecasts world oil demand to reach 116 million barrels per day (bpd) by 2045, around 6 million bpd higher than expected last year.

The hydrogen rainbow

  • Green hydrogen is produced on a carbon-neutral basis through water electrolysis. 
  • Turquoise hydrogen is created when natural gas is broken down into hydrogen and solid carbon with the help of methane pyrolysis.
  • Blue hydrogen is generated from the steam reduction of natural gas. 
  • Grey hydrogen is obtained by steam reforming fossil fuels such as natural gas or coal. 
  • Sometimes other colours are ascribed to hydrogen, based on how it is produced. For red, pink and violet hydrogen, the electrolysers are driven by nuclear power. 
  • Yellow hydrogen is hydrogen produced from a mixture of renewable energies and fossil fuels. 
  • White hydrogen is a waste product of other chemical processes, while the use of coal as a fuel produces brown hydrogen.

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