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Al-Khobar: The Hydrogen-Powered City of the Future

Saudi Arabia, with its abundant reserves of natural gas, is well-positioned to become a leader in hydrogen city development, according to Alberto Boretti, an independent scientist based in New Zealand. In a letter published by the International Journal of Hydrogen Energy, Boretti highlights the country's potential to produce hydrogen through processes like steam methane reforming (SMR), leveraging its natural gas resources.


One key player in this endeavor is Saudi Aramco, which recently announced plans to establish a hydrogen hub in Jubail Industrial City along the Arabian Gulf coast. This hub, expected to commence operations by 2027, could pave the way for the development of a hydrogen city. Boretti specifically mentions Al Khobar as a unique location for such a project, citing factors such as natural gas production, average income levels, strategic location, solar and wind potential, regional expertise in oil and gas projects, economic diversification goals, and a focus on innovation and technology.


Boretti envisions Al Khobar Hydrogen City as a pioneer in eco-friendly urban development, powered by a combination of light blue, white, and green hydrogen, as well as solar and wind electricity. He suggests that in the initial phases, natural gas should be used instead of hydrogen, with wind and solar capacity and hydrogen production by electrolyzers gradually built up. To ensure a reliable electricity supply, combined-cycle gas turbine plants running on natural gas and hydrogen blends could be used, with excess renewable energy used to power electrolyzers for hydrogen production.


Boretti presents two possible configurations for a city with a 200 MW energy demand. The first configuration focuses on supplying dispatchable renewable electricity, requiring the installation of 1 GW of wind and solar capacity. The second configuration goes beyond electricity supply to include additional renewable fuel production, specifically green hydrogen. This configuration would require 1.3 GW of solar and wind capacity and 73 MW of average renewable fuel power output.


The success of a hydrogen city relies on a comprehensive approach that combines technological innovation, supportive policies, public engagement, and collaboration among stakeholders. Boretti believes that the methodologies used in his study could serve as a foundation for similar projects in other Gulf countries, such as the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Oman.


It is important to note that Boretti assumes a 75% efficiency for hydrogen production and a range of 55% for reusing hydrogen to produce electricity. These efficiency values reflect the conversion of electrical energy into hydrogen gas and the subsequent conversion of stored hydrogen energy into electrical energy.


Saudi Arabia's potential for hydrogen city development, coupled with its natural gas resources, strategic location, and commitment to innovation, positions the country as a key player in the transition to a hydrogen economy.

For more details on the Hydrogen Market read our report: Hydrogen Horizons 2024-2050: Navigating the Global Hydrogen Market


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