When Air Liquide Arabia (ALAR) announced the start-up of its global-scale hydrogen production site in Yanbu Industrial City, on the West coast of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in 2015, it represented the largest industrial investment (€350m) and biggest ‘over-the-fence’ hydrogen contract of the group to date.

At the end of January, ALAR began pumping hydrogen through its flagship pipeline network in Yanbu to the Middle East’s largest refinery.

Hydrogen allows for the reduction of the sulfur content of the produced fuels at refineries, and to meet the environmental standards for cleaner transportation fuels.

This is significant in the oil and gas-based economies of the Middle East and for Saudi Arabia in particular, with the Kingdom having signalled a shift towards cleaner fuels as part of its Vision 2030 programme.

A bold yet achievable blueprint for an ambitious nation, Vision 2030 unveiled the ambition to create a vibrant society in which all citizens can fulfil their dreams, hopes and ambitions to succeed in a thriving economy.

The Vision sets out programme goals that aim to position Saudi Arabia as a global logistics hub, an investment powerhouse, and further integrate the country’s economy regionally and globally, developing local companies into regional and global leaders.

One of the programme goals is to build a renewable energy market, and hydrogen is key to achieving this clean, secure and affordable energy future outlined in the Vision.

With its unrivalled hydrogen pipeline infrastructure and network on both coasts of Saudi Arabia, ALAR is positioning itself as a partner to the Kingdom in achieving Vision 2030.

Formed in 2007 as a joint venture between Air Liquide and Saudi Arabia’s Industrialisation and Energy Services Company (TAQA), ALAR’s hydrogen infrastructure and industrial gas solutions and technologies have delivered strong performance and value for its customers across the Kingdom over the past decade.

ALAR’s investment in Saudi Arabia and its development of hydrogen production and recovery allow the company to help optimise the Kingdom’s natural resources, reduce its CO2 footprint and contribute to a low carbon society.

Indeed, ALAR believes the Kingdom is waking up to hydrogen’s potential. Here in an exclusive interview with gasworld, Olivier Randet, Vice-President of Middle East and India at Air Liquide, highlights why the time for hydrogen has arrived in Saudi Arabia.

Randet at Air Liquide TILES EDITORIAL-01

Let’s start by talking about the Yanbu pipeline, which has now been operational for five years. Why is this project so significant?

By investing over $400m in our Yanbu hydrogen production site and hydrogen pipeline network, ALAR is not only bringing infrastructure and expertise in hydrogen supply solutions and technology, but also driving local investments, talent development and strengthening the local supply chain in Yanbu.

Furthermore, ALAR’s investment in Yanbu represented Air Liquide’s largest single industrial investment and its most significant “over the fence” hydrogen contract in the Middle East ever.

ALAR’s hydrogen infrastructure in Yanbu consists of two global scale hydrogen production units and one purification unit, which together boasts a 340,000 Nm³/hour production capacity and is connected to its 16-km hydrogen pipeline network.

It is entirely built, owned and operated by ALAR and was completed over the course of 11 million-man hours without a single lost time accident.

Who does the pipeline supply?

Through this network, ALAR supplies hydrogen to the YASREF refinery (a joint venture between Saudi Aramco and Sinopec), which has a heavy crude oil capacity of 400,000 bpd. YASREF in turn uses this hydrogen to reduce sulfur content when refining its crude oil into premium transportation fuel.

In early 2020, ALAR kickstarted commercial operations of its flagship pipeline network, supplying hydrogen to one of the largest complex.

With three more companies set to connect to the pipeline in the coming months, ALAR’s Yanbu project is likely to play a greater role in the delivery of energy efficiencies for customers.

What other hydrogen infrastructure does ALAR have in Saudi Arabia?

As well as Yanbu, ALAR has operations in Jubail and Qurayyah, through which it delivers gas solutions and technologies to its customers.

It holds the distinction of being the first company to have introduced hydrogen networks in Saudi Arabia, with a pipeline network on both coasts of the Kingdom in Yanbu and Jubail industrial basins.

This gives ALAR pipelines, with a combined length of 37km, a total hydrogen transport capacity of over 200,000 Nm3/hr each.

“…hydrogen’s potential to address vital areas in Vision 2030 is increasingly being realised, especially creating a circular economy, reducing carbon emissions and ensuring the Kingdom’s energy leadership”

In keeping with its goal to drive greater value for its customers, ALAR also offers hydrogen recovery solutions through its Jubail pipeline.

ALAR’s proven ambient and cryogenic separation processes, which involve cooling and condensing feedstock, allow it to recover up to 97% of hydrogen which would otherwise be wasted, resulting in significant cost benefits and efficiencies for clients.

What are the opportunities for hydrogen in Saudi Arabia?

Hydrogen today plays an important role in the oil and gas industry, particularly during the refining process.

Refineries use hydrogen to process crude oil into refined fuels such as gasoline and diesel, and for removing contaminants such as Sulphur, which helps prevent acid rains.

However, hydrogen also has a role to play in smaller industries such as petrochemicals, polysilicon and glass.

In petrochemicals, hydrogen is used to convert basic feedstocks into intermediate and final products, whereas for instance in the polysilicon industry, manufacturing facilities require large amounts of hydrogen to produce silicon.

Hydrogen is an incredibly important resource to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Why is hydrogen so important to the Kingdom?

It has huge potential to lower CO2 emissions across sectors in the Kingdom and the Middle East in general, including long-haul transport and chemicals, while advanced technologies can enable Saudi Arabia to use hydrogen to store energy from renewables, which is a space that is gaining traction in the region.

Additionally, with Saudi Arabia benefiting from high sun exposure it serves as an ideal candidate for low carbon hydrogen production and hydrogen exports in the future.

ALAR H2 production site, Yanbu

Source: Air Liquide Arabia

How significant do you think hydrogen energy will be to Vision 2030? Will the Kingdom really embrace hydrogen energy/power to underpin its transport and society in the future?

What we observe is that hydrogen’s potential to address vital areas in Vision 2030 is increasingly being realised, especially creating a circular economy, reducing carbon emissions and ensuring the Kingdom’s energy leadership.

There is now a strong momentum, not only on transportation but also on a wide range of applications using hydrogen as an energy carrier.

The Kingdom’s focus on driving change and innovation makes us optimistic about how hydrogen energy will be used to power the future.

How exactly does ALAR position itself as a partner to the Kingdom in achieving Vision 2030?

With our unrivalled hydrogen pipeline infrastructure and network on both coasts of the country, ALAR is directly contributing to Vision 2030’s goal of increasing domestic production.

We are providing a consistent and reliable source of hydrogen to customers, enabling them to develop downstream sectors and supporting local supply chains.

Our role in Vision 2030 goes beyond hydrogen production to include hydrogen recovery, helping to optimise the Kingdom’s natural resources, reduce its CO2 footprint and enable a low carbon society.

We also actively contribute to developing local talent, as part of Vision 2030, by hiring young and experienced Saudis and providing them with the platform to build up and hone unparalleled engineering skills and expertise.

Our IKTVA score of 63% and Saudisation rate of 65% with an annual increase of 5% is a testament to our efforts.

We are the only company in our sector to have such a high IKTVA score. Our learning and development programs, and our partnerships with renowned universities help develop Saudi youth and their careers.

What currently happens to the hydrogen that is recovered by ALAR?

Whether the hydrogen is produced or recovered, the use cases remain the same. We supply both forms to refineries and chemicals producers in Jubail and Yanbu.

Are there any plans to change this in the future, perhaps to supply hydrogen fuelling?

We do intend on supplying industrial sectors apart from chemicals and oil and gas. Our focus is on the energy transition and the sustainability of the solutions we implement.

KSA and the Middle East as a whole benefits from significant sun (and wind) exposure, so can you see a really strong green hydrogen sector emerge in the region?

Absolutely. Saudi Arabia has already made significant progress in this regard. Its renewables strategy plans to add 60GW of clean energy capacity to the grid by 2030, and we see a greater role for ALAR in using hydrogen to store energy from renewables.

How could Air Liquide support this?

Globally, Air Liquide is actively involved in developing solutions that reduce carbon emissions during the hydrogen production process.

Project HyBalance in Europe is one such initiative, which covers the entire value chain from the storage of hydrogen that is produced by renewable sources such as wind turbines to its distribution for use in clean transportation and the industrial sector.

As green hydrogen continues to gain traction in KSA and the region, we hope to introduce similar programmes locally and replicate our success.