The sustainability of the energy sector and the search for clean and low-carbon energy technologies are the basis of the European Union’s strategy on energy policy which has as its main objective the so-called carbon “neutrality” by 2050.
Europe, in addition to increasing the domestic production of clean energy, aims to diversify its import basket, ensuring the supply of “green” energy resources. Among the renewable energy sources is green hydrogen, defined in this way because its production does not cause greenhouse gas emissions and can be achieved through the electrolysis of water, i.e., a process in which the H2O molecule is split into hydrogen and oxygen by an electric current.
Despite the lack of sufficient efforts to increase the production of hydrogen, it also seems to play a decisive role in the decarbonisation of some highly polluting sectors, such as the chemical and steel industries.
Even Goldman Sachs has underlined its importance and has estimated that the global hydrogen market should reach a total value of one trillion dollars within 30 years. It is actually estimated that the global demand for hydrogen will increase sevenfold by 2050, the date chosen by the European Green Deal for achieving carbon neutrality.
In fact, in 2020, as part of the energy transition objectives, the European Union adopted a plan that aims to support investments, infrastructure and hydrogen research which should represent 13-14% of the European energy mix of 2050.
In order to pursue this goal, the European Union adopted, in May 2022, the REPowerEu plan, and established that by 2030 European countries will have to produce 10 million tons of green hydrogen and import another 10 to diversify the energy portfolio and make it more “green”. However, the investment costs for achieving these objectives are well above the 20 billion provided by the REPowerEu that the European Union has allocated to the production of green hydrogen.
Currently, to fill the investment gap, a European Hydrogen Bank has been set up to support the production of 10 tonnes of green hydrogen which, according to recent estimates by the European Commission, would need further investments of between 335 and 471 billion Euro. According to the EU, most of these funds will have to come from private capital with loans expected to reach 115 billion, a figure that remains lower than the foreseen cost.
In parallel, the European Union had identified Ukraine as a possible ideal exporter of green hydrogen for Europe as Kiev had guaranteed the production of 10GW of hydrogen by 2030. Despite the war between Russia and Ukraine, in February 2023, the President of the European Commission Ursula Von Der Leyen signed a strategic partnership on biomethane, hydrogen and synthetic gas with Ukraine which, however, probably, due to the uncertainties related to the conflict, will not be able to respect the promised investments in the field of renewables.
In the immediate term, this lack of funds, combined with the ambitious objectives of the European Union, forces member countries to find green hydrogen elsewhere, including Africa where, if properly exploited, trends towards decarbonisation and energy diversification can be translated into great economic opportunities and great profits for emerging countries such as Mauritania.
In fact, Mauritania has embarked on its courageous “green” policy which aims to mobilize and develop the country’s vast resources, in particular renewable energies, iron ore, and gas, with the hope of reducing the caused by gas emissions by 92% by 2030 and increase the share of renewables in its energy mix by up to 60%. To achieve this goal, the country has developed a series of projects and accords.
First of all, there is the AMAN project, signed in May 2022, in partnership with the Australian company leader in renewables CWP Global, which envisages the construction of a plant with a total value of 40 billion dollars which will produce 1.7 million tons of green hydrogen and will become Africa’s largest hydrogen hub.
According to estimates, this project alone should contribute to an increase in Mauritanian GDP of 50-60% by 2035. In 2021, the NOUR project was also launched, signed with the English multinational Chariot Limited which envisages the construction of a plant for the production of green hydrogen on an onshore and offshore area of over 14,000 square kilometres. According to the company, this project would make Mauritania “the cheapest green hydrogen producer in Africa”.
Furthermore, during the COP27 last November, the multinational BP signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Cheikh el-Ghazouani aimed at studying the feasibility of some projects which, if implemented, would lead to the production of around 2 million tons of green hydrogen per year.
Finally, in March 2023, Infinity Power Holding (a joint venture between the Egyptian Infinity and the Emirate Masdar) and the German company Conjuncta GmbH signed an agreement with the government of Mauritania worth a total of 34 billion dollars for the construction of a hydrogen plant which will be completed in 2028 and will have a production capacity of 8 million tons of green hydrogen per year. This project is particularly relevant for Germany to reshape its energy basket.
Hand in hand, as evidence of Mauritania’s attempt to become
a global hub of green hydrogen, there is the formation of the so-called Africa Green Hydrogen Alliance, of which Nouakchott is part with
five other African countries, namely Egypt, Kenya,
Morocco, Namibia and South Africa.
This alliance aims to promote cooperation in the development of green hydrogen that could sustainably industrialize Africa, increasing the GDP of member countries from 6% to 12% for an economic return of 126 billion dollars. The AGHA allowed Mauritania to exercise real “hydrogen diplomacy” towards some 200 representatives of African governments who gathered on April 13 and 14 in Nouakchott for the Africa Green Hydrogen Finance Accelerator Forum, convened with the support of the Alliance and the United Nations.
The Forum, which met with the aim of discussing new projects to be implemented to accelerate the production of energy from renewable sources and green hydrogen, concluded with a request from the Mauritanian government sent to the World Bank and the IMF to actively intervene for the development of green hydrogen in Africa.
The hydrogen market will play a central role in pursuing the European strategy of energy transition and security, since Europe will necessarily have to resort to the import of renewable energies if it wants to achieve its objectives in the field of sustainability. Although Morocco and Egypt are candidates as ideal exporters of green hydrogen, by virtue of the agreements that have been signed with the European Union, the latter does not want to repeat the same mistake made with Russia, i.e., relying on a single (or few) energy partner.
In parallel, the need to diversify sustainable investments, while respecting the condition of energy security, will likely increase Mauritania’s chances of transforming itself into a regional green hydrogen hub, thanks also to investment costs that have been judged lower than in other countries. (Open Photo: 123rf.com)
Alessandro Di Martino