Maximizing Hydrogen’s Potential

GPCA: Reflecting on the potential of hydrogen to deliver sustainable, efficient, and affordable energy at scale

“We see huge potential in low-carbon hydrogen, particularly its role in decarbonizing the hardest-to-abate sectors such as power, heavy industries, and heavy-duty transport.”

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At the Gulf Petrochemicals and Chemicals Association held on Dec. 7, vice president of Chemicals and leader of Aramco’s Low Carbon Hydrogen Business, Olivier Thorel spoke to Aramco’s capability in hydrogen.


Setting out the global context, Thorel noted that clean hydrogen has been gaining significant traction across the world and has been identified as a key solution to achieve carbon neutrality.


Thorel said that to maximize hydrogen’s potential, certain aspects need to be addressed, including:


  • The potential of low-carbon hydrogen in decarbonizing industry value chains
  • The necessary conditions to drive the business case for low carbon hydrogen
  • The challenges associated with the full deployment of low-carbon hydrogen in terms of regulations, technology and infrastructure requirements.


Reflecting on the potential of hydrogen to deliver sustainable, efficient and affordable energy at scale, Thorel said: “We’ve been producing hydrogen and using it in our refineries for decades and we have a well-established supply network throughout the Kingdom. Now we want to be a leading player in the new global hydrogen economy.”


We see huge potential in low-carbon hydrogen, particularly its role in decarbonizing the hardest-to-abate sectors such as power, heavy industries, and heavy-duty transport.
— Oliver Thorel


“We have several natural advantages: a vast resource base; a low-cost position; a track record of engineering megaprojects; and the lowest upstream carbon intensity of any major oil producer,” he said. 


Lessons learned

Thorel went onto note that Aramco has already gained experience through a 2020 pilot project, where the company produced 40 tons of blue ammonia and shipped it to partners in Japan for use in low-emission power generation. This project demonstrated that hydrogen — in the form of low-carbon ammonia — could be transported safely and competitively to any market in the world.


However, Thorel noted that building a new market virtually from scratch is not an undertaking for any one company. Instead, strategic collaborations are required across the hydrogen value chain.


“We’re ready and eager to work with customers and partners to realize the full decarbonization potential of hydrogen, in a world where many nations and private enterprises have pledged to reach net-zero emissions by mid-century,” he said. 


Thorel went on to highlight that there are many potential applications for low-carbon hydrogen and ammonia, including in Aramco’s own business. These include a potential source of low-emission power generation. Appropriately deployed at scale, low-carbon ammonia could be a source of baseload power.


“This will be vital as more renewables are integrated into power grids.”


“Low-carbon hydrogen can also help decarbonize segments of the transport market that are hard to electrify, such as heavy duty vehicles, shipping – and perhaps even aviation. In a carbon-constrained world it could also help power the most energy-intensive industries like glass, steel and cement,” Thorel said.


A valuable hydrogen byproduct

Thorel also highlighted the fact that low-carbon hydrogen generates a potentially valuable by-product, such as the CO2 captured during the hydrogen production process. This can either be reused, for example, in enhanced oil recovery, or chemically recycled into other materials such as CO2-cured cement.


“Not only does this permanently trap carbon and prevents it from being emitted into the environment, in the lab we found that it cuts curing time by 75%,” he said.


Any company that wants to be a serious hydrogen player needs to have three basic elements: the natural resources; the technology and knowhow; and the networks and commercial partnerships.


“Aramco has all three,” he said.


“Our vast and low-cost natural gas resources will form the backbone of low-emission hydrogen production at Aramco. We also have the geological potential for large-scale CO2 storage.”


“And our SABIC affiliate has more than four decades’ expertise in producing and selling ammonia.”


“I addition, Aramco also has strong commercial partnerships with some of the leading companies involved in the hydrogen value chain, especially in Asia where much of the world’s future demand and innovation will come from,” Thorel noted.


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