World's biggest green hydrogen project announced for Kazakhstan

World's biggest green hydrogen project announced for Kazakhstan
Photoshopped image: German company Svevind is planning a monster 45-gigawatt renewable energy scheme in Kazakhstan
Photoshopped image: German company Svevind is planning a monster 45-gigawatt renewable energy scheme in Kazakhstan
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Photoshopped image: German company Svevind is planning a monster 45-gigawatt renewable energy scheme in Kazakhstan
Photoshopped image: German company Svevind is planning a monster 45-gigawatt renewable energy scheme in Kazakhstan

Germany's Svevind has announced plans for a colossal green hydrogen project that will place some 45 gigawatts of wind and solar energy generation on the vast steppes of Kazakhstan to produce around three million tonnes of green hydrogen annually.

This project will utterly dwarf the biggest project currently in planning or underway; it boasts more than twice the production capacity of the Asian Renewable Energy Hub that's just been deemed "clearly unacceptable" by Australia's conservative environment minister, and it's projected to produce five times more than the Enegix Base One project in Brazil. The biggest green hydrogen plant in the world today, Air Liquide's facility in Canada, marshals just 20 MW of peak electrolyzing capability – this Svevind project plans to run a monstrous 30 GW of electrolyzers.

The development is at an early stage; Svsvind has just signed an MoU with the Kazakh Invest National Company JSC after presenting its plans to the Kazakh government in May. The overall development, engineering, procurement and financing phases are expected to take about three to five years, and then the construction and commissioning phases are predicted to take around five years.

Why Kazakhstan? Well, this land-locked central Asian giant is the ninth biggest – and 18th least densely populated – country on the planet, with just seven people per square kilometer (18 people per sq mile). The endless plains of the Kazakh steppe take up a third of the country, an area larger than Pakistan. It's the most prosperous country in Central Asia, with an economy largely reliant on petroleum and crude oil exports.

So there's plenty of open space for renewable energy generation, even if it's not the windiest of places, the location is pretty decent for exporting to Asia or Europe, and there are local ammonia, steel and aluminum industries that could use the hydrogen domestically. Plus, any country currently reliant on fossil fuel exports needs to be planning ahead as the world looks to decarbonize over the next few decades.

Source: Svevind

Use it for what? It makes next to zero sense using electricity (green or otherwise) into H2 at a very poor 30-50% efficiency and, well, Kazakhstan is hardly the most blessed country in the world as far as fresh water goes - any old rubbish water simply won't do for hydrolysing so bang goes a load of energy to purify what water *is* available - with the associated infrastructure costs. Just one of the myriad of practical/technical reasons 'green hydrogen' is a total white (well, green maybe) elephant.
David Van Den Assem
While I deeply appreciate the efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of the energy system, there are a number of thoughts that came to mind here. 1) hydrogen as a fuel requires massive infrastructure investments for transport, storage, and end use. Transporting over long distances is challenging, inefficient and expensive and in every part of the world the infrastructure needs to be created. Is there sufficient infrastructure to meet local demand or transport it to markets, or are there parallel plans to generate that infrastructure? 2) the Steppes are semi-arid, receiving an average of 300mm of precipitation per year. For the generation of 3 million tonnes of hydrogen at a highly optimistic 75% electrolytic efficiency, about 27B L of fresh, distilled water is needed per year. I live in a semi-arid part of Canada where the best wind and solar resources are in the areas of similar precipitation amounts, so face the same issues. As Mr. Winlow points out below, water treatment to electrolyzer quality takes a lot of energy to create, as does compressing or liquefying hydrogen for transport or storage. I hope somebody has a sustainable solution for this problem that doesn't include drawing down the water table.
John Toothaker
Bravo on this effort! Indeed there are many obstacles to overcome, but other German corporations have already developed storage and transportation solutions for hydrogen as a transportation fuel. EV Batteries are a very short term solution, with their own environmental concerns, whereas Hydrogen Fuel Cells are a much longer term answer with less damage to the environment. Another advantage of Hydrogen is, unlike batteries, no GOVERNMENT SUBSIDIES!
Another company that has not done the math of what is better for the climate in the next 20 years: produce hydrogen or decarbonize the grid. It is the latter by a very wide margin.
Simon Blake
ScienceFan: I think we need both. With the broader carbon issue we need to reduce production but also find practical and cost effective methods of sequestration. From an energy perspective we need to be more efficient whilst accepting that people will still want to travel, manufacture aluminium etc. and so we need more environmentally efficient sources. Green hydrogen might be part of that mix but we are unlikely to find out unless we try.