Can Saudi’s Neom be a blueprint of a hydrogen-run city?
Saudi Arabia plans to develop a futuristic city called Neom on the sandy shores of the Red Sea. The Saudi government will spend US$ 500 billion to build the city, which would be 33 times the size of New York. The first leg of the project is expected to be completed by 2025. It will even set its own laws and tax system, independent from the Kingdom. And what more: flying cars, flying taxis, working robots, holographic teachers, artificial rain, and last but not the least super artificial moon. Those seem enough for the near future.
Planning a futuristic city without using clean energy would not make sense. So, is there any provision for clean energy in this modern city to be developed by the world’s largest fossil fuel exporter? The answer is yes.
Neom is a part of Saudi Vision 2030, a strategy to reduce Saudi Arabia’s reliance on fossil fuel and diversify the economy. To be a real futuristic city, Neom plans to fulfil all its energy demand through renewable energy sources. Given its geographical position, Neom has the perfect opportunity to use all its energy needs from clean sources.
Moreover, the city can use renewable to produce green hydrogen. This can be a real test for Neom to show how to run on clean and green energy solely. Hydrogen has already been a part of the Neom energy mix needs. It plans to build the world largest green hydrogen generation plant.
In July 2020, the US’s Air Products & Chemicals Inc announced to build the world’s largest green hydrogen plant in Saudi Arabia. The US$ 5 billion hydrogen and ammonia project will be jointly owned by Air Products, Saudi Arabia’s ACWA Power and Neom. The Helios Green Fuels Project is expected to produce 650 tonnes of hydrogen per day (~237,000 tonnes per year) from a 2 GW electrolysis plant to be fed to produce ammonia for the export market.
Germany’s Thyssenkrupp will supply 20 MW electrolysers for the Element One project in Neom City. The German government also provided a grant to Thyssenkrupp to develop a 20 MW alkaline electrolyser prototype for the Neom project. The grant was provided from the EUR 9 billion (US$ 11 billion) fund which Germany has set to support the hydrogen industry.
Saudi Arabia has also been exploring opportunities to become a major supplier of green hydrogen. A major issue with hydrogen exports is its shipment. One of the best ways to transport green hydrogen is to produce it first using renewable energy and then convert it to green ammonia. Saudi Aramco, in a partnership, has recently produced and shipped blue ammonia to Japan. In the trial, 40 tonnes of high-grade blue ammonia were shipped to Japan for zero-carbon power generation.
Building a city of such a colossal scale from scratch and running on renewable would definitely require more than 4 GW of energy. The Middle East has the cheapest sources of solar and wind power in the world. Noem has the ideal climate condition to use low-cost wind and solar energy to produce green hydrogen. The city has a perfect opportunity to set an example for others to show how to run a modern city on clean and green energy.