Abu Dhabi Hydrogen: Looking for an alternative

01 December 2006

The initiative is local, but the implications are global. In March, when Abu Dhabi’s Executive Affairs Authority (EAA) announced the launch of the Masdar initiative, it did not grab the international headlines. But there are few doubts it will go a long way towards addressing increasing global concerns about energy conservation and efficiency.

The programme is based on four key elements: an innovation centre to develop new technologies; a university, including global research institutes offering specialist graduate programmes in renewable energy and sustainability; a development company to focus on the commercialisation of emissions reduction in line with the Kyoto protocol; and a special economic zone to host institutions that will invest in the production of renewable energy.The initiative has the full backing of the government. A four-square-kilometre site has been allocated to set up a campus and a $100 million clean technology fund has been created for Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (ADFEC) the main operating firm to co-invest with the private sector on developing new technologies.For ADFEC, the mandate is clear: development and commercialisation of advanced and innovative technologies in renewable energy, energy efficiency and the management of carbon resources and its monetisation for industries to be set up in the emirate.’We have launched the alternative energy resources programme and plan the use of hydrogen [H2] for power generation,’ Ahmed al-Sayegh, chief executive of Abu Dhabi-based Dolphin Energy, said while addressing delegates at the MEED Major New Project Opportunities in Abu Dhabi conference in late November. ‘There is also a major opportunity with CO2 [carbon dioxide], particularly for reinjection [into maturing oil fields].’The Masdar initiative is at an early stage, but lessons can be drawn from the world’s first industrial-scale hydrogen-powered project being developed in Scotland by the UK’s BP and its partner, Scottish & Southern Energy. The project is aimed at generating electricity using H2 produced from natural gas. Called decarbonised fuels (DF 1), it calls for the construction of a 475-MW power plant at Peterhead, near Aberdeen. The carbon-free electricity generated will be enough to light 500,000 homes in the UK and store 1.8 million tonnes of CO2.The US’ Foster Wheeler, which conducted an initial study for the project, is preparing the front-end engineering and design. ‘In a nutshell, DF 1 will combine separate technologies hydrogen production, power generation and carbon capture and storage for enhanced oil recovery in one integrated project,’ says a Foster Wheeler statement. ‘While each of the component technologies are already proven, their proposed combination at this scale is unique.’ Natural gas feedstock for the plant will be sourced from the North Sea. ‘The gas will be transported onshore and converted in an auto-thermal reformer, which will then convertthe methane gas into H2 and CO2,’ it said.All eyes will be on the Peterhead project. ‘While the technologies for the use of hydrogen in power are proven and in use, much remains to be done to commercialise and develop a novel approach to clean fuel,’ BP said in a late November statement. ‘Once hydrogen power has proven its viability, there is also no limit to how much power we can produce using this technology.Coal, for example, is an ideal fuel for this technology.’BP is also carrying out work on a similar project at Carson, California. When completed in 2011, it will be the world’s largest hydrogen-fired power plant. The proposed capacity is 500 MW sufficient to light 325,000 homes in southern California.Blessed with about 90,000 million barrels of crude oil and 237 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, there is no pressing reason for Abu Dhabi to move ahead with the development of alternative energy resources. However, given that the annual

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