Oman's foray into the hydrogen economy will reap benefits for both the Sultanate and the planet.
In terms of abundance, hydrogen is one of the most commonly found elements in the universe, though it rarely occurs naturally in a chemical form by itself on Earth. Thanks to our ability to dream big, we have discovered processes to harness hydrogen’s incredible energy in multiple ways. Since the 1970s, NASA has used hydrogen to propel its space shuttles into space. Hydrogen today is mostly commonly used to refine hydrocarbons, such as gasoline, natural gas, and propane. However, its role as a side character to other fuels is slowly changing. As we come to grips with inevitable climate change, hydrogen’s ability to create energy while producing little to no pollution is increasingly of interest to the renewable energy sector. Thanks to Oman’s geographical characteristics and developed oil and gas infrastructure, the country could find itself one of the world’s largest exporters of the element in the coming years.
A study done by the Technical University of Munich and Hydrogen Rise AG, a German firm specializing in hydrogen fuel technology, found that Oman’s natural resources of wind and sun have the potential to provide the huge amount of electricity necessary for hydrogen production. Furthermore, its large swathes of desert land are equally important to carry out the industrial-sized production envisioned in the report. Thanks to its abundance of all three components, the price tag of its hydrogen would be a steal; researchers found that the cost to produce a kilogram of hydrogen in the Sultanate would amount to USD3, significantly below the global average. Though the studies results have yet to be fine-tuned, Oman has had a jumpstart in the race to produce this clean energy on a large scale. As such, Oman recently opened the Oman Hydrogen Center at the German University of Technology (GU Tech). The center, which was inaugurated by Minister of Technology and Communications Azza bint Sulaiman al-Isma’eeli in 2019, will seek to establish a “hydrogen economy” in Oman. In doing so, it will develop the technological and market capacity of Oman to become an exporter of hydrogen by bringing together specialists in research, technology, education, industry, and, of course, the economy. To this affect, an MoU was signed by Germany-based Hydrogen Rise Company and GU Tech owners Oman Education Services Establishment, founding a private company to sell the hydrogen both to the Omani market and abroad. Along these same lines, Belgian-based DEME Concessions NV currently has proposed to build a solar- and wind-powered hydrogen production plant in Duqm. As a port town on the Arabian Sea with its own special economic zone, SEZAD, Duqm is well-disposed for the creation of hydrogen, thanks to its location. On top of its strong potential for wind and solar power, Duqm offers easy access to Oman’s onshore and offshore sites, which could host renewable generation assets, the company said, as reported by PV Magaine. Currently feasibility studies are being carried out for the plant, with hopes to find investors by 2021. It is estimated that the plant’s electrolyzer (the machine used to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen using an electrical current) will have a capacity between 250-500MW. Omanis too are also playing roles in the promotion of the hydrogen economy. EJAAD, a state-supported Omani innovation platform, has announced its formulation of a national strategy for a hydrogen economy. In workshop that brought together over 40 stakeholders, EJAAD set the foundation for future policy and regulatory frameworks, as well as identifying strategic partnerships and business opportunities for the Omani market. Besides creating a better future for the planet, Oman’s hydrogen economy could also bring in a new source of revenue for the Sultanate, which heavily relies on hydrogen’s close relations, hydrocarbon fuels, for its revenue. According to estimates, Oman’s hydrogen could be worth USD20 billion by 2050. Hydrogen might just be the new “liquid” gold.