RACING FOR HYDROGEN
Gulf Business|June 2021
How gas giants are vying to stay relevant as the industry moves towards sustainable goals

The global gas industry is in an existential race: either find a way to be part of the next generation of energy or risk getting supplanted by alternatives.

BP, Sinopec, Equinor ASA and Royal Dutch Shell are among the producers looking to hydrogen to help secure demand that otherwise may falter as decarbonisation speeds up. They want to utilise existing pipelines, storage tankers and fuel supply to make blue hydrogen, a process that uses natural gas but captures the carbon emissions and stores them.

The straightest route to net-zero emissions uses hydrogen produced by renewable electricity – known in the industry as green hydrogen – but the blue variety is expected to be cheaper until at least 2030 as wind and solar power ramp-up. Gas companies aiming to lower emissions now and avoid obsolescence next decade are planning to pour billions of dollars into building their blue businesses. At least 15 projects are scheduled to go online through 2027 in the UK, Germany, Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden and New Zealand.

“Green is the destination, but we’ll get there on a blue highway,” said Al Cook, executive vice president for development and production at Stavanger, Norway-based Equinor. “At some point, green hydrogen might well be lower cost than blue, but that will likely not be for at least a decade.”

Clean hydrogen could meet a quarter of the world’s energy needs by 2050, with annual sales reaching EUR630bn ($770bn). Production of blue needs to be scaled up quickly because projects that don’t come online by 2030 risk becoming uncompetitive, according to BloombergNEF.

Right now, hydrogen is expensive to make without expelling greenhouse gases, is difficult to store and is so highly combustible that NASA uses it to propel rockets into space.

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