Aramco: Scaling up hydrogen as the low-carbon fuel of the future
Investments in blue hydrogen aimed at helping to meet rising global demand for low carbon energy solutions.
Aramco’s efforts to promote and develop sustainable fuel solutions are gaining attention. During a recent media visit to company facilities by news agency Bloomberg, Aramco’s chief technology officer, Ahmad O. Al-Khowaiter said that Aramco is exploring investment and partnership opportunities in blue hydrogen to meet increasing global demand for low carbon energy solutions, following the company’s first-ever delivery of the low carbon fuel to Japan last year.
The use of hydrogen is expected to grow in the global energy system, and this world’s first demonstration represents an exciting opportunity for Aramco to showcase the potential of hydrocarbons as a reliable source of low carbon hydrogen and ammonia.
— Ahmad O. Al-Khowaiter
Numerous breakthroughs make the production and transport of hydrogen, a volatile element, possible. By converting hydrogen into ammonia, a compound consisting of three parts hydrogen and one part nitrogen, Aramco is able to transport this zero-carbon fuel safely, while addressing the challenge of meeting the world’s growing energy needs in a reliable and sustainable manner.
The shipment of blue ammonia to Japan in September 2020 was a pilot project, Al-Khowaiter said, adding that the company’s early achievements in blue hydrogen put it in a position to possibly have a “large share” of the market. The key will be to respond to the demands of the global energy market, before making further investments to scale up Aramco’s blue hydrogen production, Al-Khowaiter said.
“The scale up is unlikely to happen before 2030,” Al-Khowaiter told Bloomberg. “We’re not likely to see large volumes of blue ammonia before then.
“From the time you make clear off-take agreements, you’re talking about a five- to six-year capital cycle to invest in the production and conversion requirements,” Al-Khowaiter said. “You’re talking about a pretty long time scale.”
Shipping blue ammonia
Last year’s milestone of producing and shipping 40 tons of blue ammonia — an achievement made possible through a collaboration with SABIC and the Institute of Energy Economics, Japan (IEEJ) — highlights one of several pathways within the concept of a global Circular Carbon Economy. This new energy framework proposes to address carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in a holistic way. Rather than focusing exclusively on the reduction of hydrocarbon fuel use, it would be better if emissions were reduced, removed, recycled, and reused — across the energy system.
To demonstrate hydrogen’s potential as a viable fuel for power generation around the world, the challenge of shipping was addressed with the conversion of hydrogen into blue ammonia. For the shipment to Japan for use in power plants, 30 tons of CO2 were captured during the process and designated for use in methanol production at SABIC’s Ibn-Sina facility, and another 20 tons of captured CO2 being used for enhanced oil recovery at Aramco’s ‘Uthmaniyah field.
Following the shipment to Japan last year, Al-Khowaiter, said: “The use of hydrogen is expected to grow in the global energy system, and this world’s first demonstration represents an exciting opportunity for Aramco to showcase the potential of hydrocarbons as a reliable source of low carbon hydrogen and ammonia. This milestone also highlights a successful transnational, multi-industry partnership between Saudi Arabia and Japan. Multinational partnerships are key in realizing the Circular Carbon Economy, as championed by the Saudi Arabian G20 Presidency and endorsed by the G20 nations. To address climate and environmental challenges, Aramco continues to work with various partners around the world, exploring and advancing solutions through the development and deployment of breakthrough technologies to produce low carbon energy.”