The Middle East could potentially encourage more industrial and commercial use of hydrogen which is a transition fuel being optimized in de-nuclearising economies worldwide.

German industrial engineering company Siemens has been studying the proliferation of hydrogen-fuelled technology across the globe. “In terms of interests from the region, it is changing. We started from western Europe and we realised there was a big demand in Australia and then there was a big interest from the Middle East,” said Klaus Scheffer, Siemens project lead for Energiepark Mainz, the world’s largest hydrogen electrolysis facility based in Germany.

The Middle East has a distinct advantage over other regions as it can produce electricity from the Sun for a much lower cost than western Europe. There is already a growing interest and awareness regarding hydrogen as an alternative fuel in the UAE. The first hydrogen car refilling facility opened in Dubai in 2017 at a cost of $2 million.

Japan also began its transition away from nuclear power stations following the Fukushima disaster in 2011. The country is now rethinking its energy systems as well, according to Mr Scheffer.

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UAE’s first hydrogen refilling station was inaugurated in Dubai in October 2017.

The safest way to produce hydrogen is through electrolysis. An electric current is passed through acidic water to split its hydrogen atoms from oxygen. The resultant hydrogen gas is then collected and stored, ready for use in power generation. Siemens is one of the world’s leading firms developing turbine technology to use hydrogen as fuel.

Siemens has plans to develop a hydrogen economy in the Middle East and is seeking opportunities in the region for this technology. The Middle East currently accounts for 35 percent of global oil production. It is undergoing a transition to a greener economy to unlock more crude for export. Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest sovereign producer of oil plans to invest close to $7 billion in solar and wind projects in the coming year. The UAE which relies on conventional sources of energy to power 98 percent of its utility requirements aims to generate 75 percent of its energy from environmentally-friendly sources by 2050. About AED 50 billion is earmarked to be invested in such projects.

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DEWA signed an MoU with Siemens to pilot the Gulf’s first solar-driven hydrogen electrolysis facility. Image

Siemens is promoting hybrid sources of clean fuel already. The company signed an agreement with the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority for a pilot solar-powered hydrogen electrolysis setup at Mohammed bin Rashid Solar Park. The project aims to produce hydrogen using photovoltaic technology. DEWA commented earlier this year that hydrogen has the potential to help accelerate adoption of renewables in the region.

Dubai also plans to introduce hydrogen-fuelled transport to the mainstream market. The Toyota Mirai HFCV (Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Vehicle) debuted in the UAE in 2017 in collaboration with Al-Futtaim, Masdar City (Abu Dhabi), and French fuel multinational company Air Liquide. The use of hydrogen in cars will be a game changer. 90 percent of the fuel is used in the industrial sector, mostly in oil and gas as well as refining sectors. Metal smelting and fertilizer production are also finding more applications for hydrogen fuel.

This article was adapted from The National‘s original piece about the proliferation of hydrogen in the Middle East.