Neom Green Hydrogen mulls next phase

23 November 2023


Neom Green Hydrogen Company (NGHC) received the first set of wind turbines for one of the two renewable energy plants that will power its integrated green hydrogen and ammonia production facility in early October.

The initial panels for the project’s solar power plant and hydrogen storage tanks are expected to arrive soon. The first air separation units, meanwhile, will be delivered in the first quarter of 2024.

“We are on track to meet our 2026 target commercial operation date, with the first ammonia production expected sometime between mid to late summer of 2026,” David Edmondson, CEO of NGHC (pictured), tells MEED.

Announced in the summer of 2020, the region’s first, and probably the world’s largest, green hydrogen and ammonia production facility reached financial close in May this year. The project required a final investment of $8.4bn.

“The decision to develop the project was made in 2019 in the strong belief that there would be a market for green hydrogen,” explains Edmondson.

“Having Air Products was certainly a major factor in that decision because of their hydrogen knowledge and experience. They already have an existing infrastructure for the production and distribution of hydrogen, including for mobility.”  

The US-headquartered industrial gases firm, Saudi utility developer and investor Acwa Power and Public Investment Fund-backed Neom equally own NGHC.

The scale of the integrated project is unprecedented. It will require over 4GW of wind and solar power and 400MW of battery energy storage systems. A 190-kilometre electricity transmission grid will link these to a 2GW electrolysis plant in Neom’s Oxagon industrial city.

The plant will produce up to 600 tonnes of hydrogen daily, which will be converted into roughly 1.2 million tonnes of ammonia a year. Air Products will ship the ammonia to Europe to be cracked back to hydrogen for mobility applications.

Despite some pushback on the business model's efficiency and the feasibility of green hydrogen applications in transport and mobility, Edmondson assures MEED that years of due diligence and compliance with EU carbon intensity policies support the business case. Twenty-three banks are financing the project, he points out.

“The NGHC plant is designed to ensure that the carbon intensity of the end product will be beneath the required threshold in Europe,” he says.

Edmondson acknowledges the premium costs currently involved in a low-carbon-intensity supply chain. However, this is expected to change as companies implement their net-zero commitments and suppliers scale their production to meet rising demand.

Air Products’ key role

In addition to being the exclusive offtaker for over 30 years for the green ammonia produced at the plant, Air Products is also the project’s main engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractor.

The firm’s triple role as an equity investor, EPC contractor and offtaker ensures that “we keep the focus on lowest cost of green hydrogen or ammonia”, notes Edmondson.

“Despite being the EPC contractor and a major investor in NGHC, Air Products’ primary objective is to generate revenue out of selling the ammonia that they have agreed to offtake from NGHC, not through the EPC contract,” he adds.

Phase two

With construction well under way for the integrated Neom green hydrogen and ammonia project, NGHC and its shareholders are now looking at a potential second phase.

“The Neom green hydrogen project is not expected to be a single investment,” says Edmondson.

“With all the ammonia to be produced at the plant under construction already sold to Air Products, there remains an interest in looking at additional investments for both the export market as well as the local market requirements for green hydrogen.”

Neom, which aims to be carbon-free and 100 per cent powered by renewable energy, is considering alternative fuels such as green hydrogen to achieve that goal.

Potential applications include mobility, given the plan to develop a rail system and other modes of transport for Neom.

“There was no domestic demand for green hydrogen fuel when the project was originally conceived in 2019. The market is continuing to evolve and we now see a stronger business case for local supply of green hydrogen,” says Edmondson.

The next phase is envisaged to be another large-scale project addressing domestic and international demand for green hydrogen and green ammonia.

Edmondson says more serious discussions about the project’s next phase will be on the agenda in 2024.

Ongoing innovation

The groundwork for the more widespread adoption of green hydrogen in Neom and across Saudi Arabia is under way.

In 2024, Neom’s energy and water subsidiary Enowa will open the Hydrogen and Innovation Development Centre (HIDC), which aims to produce and adopt decarbonised and clean synthetic fuels in partnership with Saudi Aramco. 

Initially, the NGHC project at the HIDC will gather operational data from the facility’s first 20MW electrolyser from Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Nucera, which will be used at the NGHC plant.

This will help advance Enowa’s plans with Air Products Qudra to test advanced hydrogen fuel cell-based mobility and logistics solutions at Neom. 

Neom factor

As a trailblazing project, Edmondson recognises the many opportunities that Neom has provided.

“We have had excellent support from Neom on both our land and permitting requirements as we have developed the project,” he says.

“We have also benefitted from legislation that allowed the first private grid in the kingdom and were granted the first industrial licence in Saudi Arabia for a green hydrogen plant.

“Neom has certainly risen to the challenge of supporting investors to make the project a reality.”
Jennifer Aguinaldo
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