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Qatar’s path in the global hydrogen economy

November 28, 2023 at 5:30 pm

Logo of QatarEnergy, formerly Qatar Petroleum on September 18, 2023 [Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images]

The global case for curbing greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning to cleaner energy solutions continues to grow. A recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicates that the current emissions trajectory threatens imminent climate hazards and long-term risks to natural and human habitats. These risks further compel energy suppliers to re-evaluate and overhaul their portfolios.

While natural gas has long been viewed by energy experts and governments as a cleaner and transitional energy source from oil and coal, calls for a global shift towards zero-emission energy sources also grow louder. To this end, hydrogen has emerged as a promising alternative. As a versatile energy carrier, hydrogen supports the storage and transportation of renewable energy and offers a potential pathway for natural gas exporters. Through innovative methods like steam methane reforming (SMR) paired with carbon capture or methane cracking, hydrogen can bridge the gap between today’s natural gas economy and a sustainable future.

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There can be no denying that there has been a global surge in investment in the hydrogen sector over the past few years, with many states also unveiling hydrogen strategies and developing relevant infrastructure and transportation links. For states like Qatar, defining an influential position in this rapidly evolving landscape will be pivotal for the country’s future prosperity.

Qatar has made a promising start to its efforts to become a major player in the emerging hydrogen economy. In 2022, QatarEnergy announced plans for the world’s largest blue ammonia plant. Ammonia is a hydrogen carrier that can be stored as a liquid at relatively milder conditions than hydrogen, reducing the complexity and costs associated with handling and storage, making transportation feasible over long distances. Doha simultaneously demonstrated its commitment to solar energy by bringing its Al Kharsaah Solar PV project online, the country’s first large-scale solar venture. Qatar also plans to add two more solar plants with a combined capacity of 880 MW in the next two years, which potentially open doors for green hydrogen and ammonia production.

Elsewhere, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are also moving forward with their efforts to gain a foothold in hydrogen markets. Abu Dhabi’s National Hydrogen Strategy, for example, aims to increase domestic hydrogen production by 2031 while emphasising market growth and regional collaboration. For its part, Saudi Arabia is developing an $8.4 billion green hydrogen plant at NEOM which upon completion will be the largest of its type in the world. Meanwhile, Oman has set itself ambitious production targets and plans to export hydrogen primarily as ammonia. Both initiatives reflect the country’s abundant renewable resources and prime strategic location.

Hydrogen and ammonia have a range of potential applications and use cases with the former being eyed for fuel cells in vehicles, especially heavy-duty transportation such as buses and trucks. Hydrogen also has applications in the industrial sector, particularly in steelmaking and refining processes, and can serve as a storage solution for renewable energy helping to balance supply and demand on electrical grids. Ammonia, on the other hand, could potentially be used as a direct fuel in power plants, fuel cells and marine engines, offering a cleaner alternative in the process. As a key component in fertilizers, the agriculture sector can also benefit from green ammonia, thereby aligning with sustainable farming practices.

Qatar’s vast natural gas resources, solid international relationships and cutting-edge infrastructure give it an edge in blue hydrogen production. It is nevertheless essential that the country addresses specific areas for improvement. Doha should, for example, acknowledge the potential of green (and turquoise) hydrogen and ammonia production. Doing so will help Qatar to diversify and optimise its renewable energy potential, enhance technological advancements and gradually decrease its reliance on liquified natural gas.

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Energy importers like Japan, South Korea and Europe are also moving towards cleaner energy sources, making them potential buyers of Qatar’s hydrogen exports. In response, Doha should diversify its energy portfolio and develop a dedicated hydrogen and ammonia strategy to ensure consistent revenues and maintain its status as a trusted energy provider. This approach will guarantee ongoing economic growth and cement Qatar’s place in future global energy markets. To bolster its position in the hydrogen economy, Qatar should also define hydrogen’s role in export diversification and decarbonization, setting national targets. Enacting clear regulations will provide investor clarity, while collaborating with global tech leaders can boost hydrogen production.

As momentum for green solutions grows globally, the potential of green hydrogen derived from renewable energy sources cannot be neglected. Investing in and scaling up green hydrogen production can complement blue and turquoise hydrogen strategies, catering to markets keen on fully renewable energy chains. International research and development partnerships, particularly in electrolysis and carbon capture, might also be beneficial. In addition, integrating hydrogen production with domestic industries, such as steel and chemical production, and diversifying product offerings can help tap new markets. Finally, fortifying relationships with international partners will guarantee consistent hydrogen demand and long-term contracts. These steps will firmly position Qatar at the forefront of the global hydrogen economy.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.