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Saudi Arabia to develop hydrogen fuel cell-based transport, sustainable jet fuel


Agreements signed with key local players such as Neom

Kingdom explores use of hydrogen-based transport in industrial cities

MOU also covers possibility of public buses running on hydrogen in Makkah

  • Author
  • Jennifer Gnana
  • Editor
  • Richard Rubin
  • Commodity
  • Electric Power Energy Transition Oil Petrochemicals

Saudi Arabia signed Jan. 20 eight preliminary agreements with the planned carbon-free city of Neom, the Red Sea Development Co. and other key national entities for the development of hydrogen fuel cell-based transportation and production of sustainable jet fuel, according to the country's energy ministry.

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The agreements will help the world's largest crude exporter take a leadership role in "all areas of energy, as it has been in the oil industry for over 80 years," energy minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said in a statement following the signing ceremony in Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia will look developing hydrogen fuel cells for use in public buses and railways, following the agreements with Princess Nora bint Abdulrahman University and the Saudi Railways Co., respectively.

The energy ministry also signed an MOU with the Saudi Technology Development and Investment Company for the development of sustainable jet fuel.

Saudi Arabia is also exploring the possibility of deploying hydrogen fuel cell-powered buses in key industrial and commercial cities through agreements with the Royal Commission for Jubail and Yanbu and the Royal Commission for Makkah City and Holy Sites.

The efforts come amid a broader push to decarbonize Saudi Arabia, which is targeting a 2060 timeline for reaching net-zero emissions. The nationally determined contributions submitted ahead of COP 26 in Glasgow in 2021 only target its domestic emissions and do not factor in those released from the use of its crude globally.

Saudi Aramco, the state oil company plans to reach net-zero by 2050.

Saudi Arabia plans to offset 278 million mt of carbon dioxide by 2030 as part of the Saudi Green Initiative to tackle domestic emissions.

Hydrogen push

Hydrogen has been earmarked for development in Saudi Arabia and in fellow oil exporters, the UAE and Oman as a viable energy export alternative to crude oil. The UAE and Saudi Arabia have ambitious plans to become leaders in the production of low-carbon hydrogen.

The total value of announced investments in hydrogen in the Middle East is set to hit $44 billion, according to data from S&P Global Platts Analytics.

Around $35 billion worth of the announced projects are set to be operational by 2030.

Saudi Arabia is building one of the world's biggest green hydrogen projects in Neom, the planned megacity straddling the country's borders with Jordan and just across the narrow Strait of Aqaba from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

The project developed by Riyadh-based Acwa Power and Air Products will be completed by the first quarter of 2026.

It will produce 240,000 mt/year of green hydrogen, which will in turn be processed into 1.2 million mt/year of ammonia.

Green hydrogen refers to the fuel manufactured by electrolysis powered by solar and wind, while ammonia is currently the most easily transportable form of hydrogen.

Saudi Aramco has previously shipped volumes of blue ammonia, derived from blue hydrogen to Japan, one of its biggest importers of crude.

This variant of the fuel is obtained through steam methane reformation, with the carbon dioxide captured and sequestered.

Pink Hydrogen

Saudi Arabia also plans to tap into hydrogen manufactured through nuclear-powered electrolysis.

The fuel obtained through this method is variously classified as pink, red or purple hydrogen.

"There is another funky type of hydrogen which we now, so hopefully when we do our our nuclear will see Saudi pink hydrogen being produced somewhere in Saudi Arabia," Prince Abdulaziz said on Jan. 19.

Saudi Arabia's plans for nuclear energy are nascent.

The country currently has no nuclear power generation but has said it will add around 17 GW of nuclear capacity by 2040 and has ambitions to bring two reactors with a combined capacity of 3.2 GW online within the next decade.