Sky News Arabia asked me to assess the memorandum Mauritania signed on 8 March with German project developer Conjuncta, UAE firm Masdar and Egypt’s Infinity to produce “green hydrogen.” I tried to give Sky News a data-driven assessment of this project.
According to Conjuncta CEO Stefan Liebing, “(This project) will have a strong link to Germany both as a technology provider and a potential offtaker of green energy.” (“Consortium signs $34 billion MoU for hydrogen project in Mauritania,” Reuters, 8 Mar 23.)
The German public broadcaster, Deutsche Welle, seemed impressed: “It has a planned capacity of 10 gigawatts – the output of roughly five to six standard nuclear power plants. The first phase of the project is set to be completed by 2028” (“Mauritania set to export green hydrogen to Germany,” DW Business, 09Mar23 archived at YouTube.)
While indeed, this MOU was advertised as aiming for “10 gigawatts” of electrolyzers, the initial goal is actually 400 MW (i.e., 0.4 GW) by 2028. That’s one-twenty-fifth the total According to the announcement, this means 8 million tonnes/year of green hydrogen by 2028.
How significant is this?
I said that this is the energy equivalent of producing about 3.3 bcm (billion cubic meters) of natural gas. (That is: 3.3 Mt hydrogen has the energy of 1 Mt of LNG., so 8 Mt H2 is 2.4 Mt of LNG, which when re-gasified produces 3.3 bcm natural gas.)
I explained that Germany is installing up to seven offshore floating regasification ships (FRSO), with an import capacity of that should reach 25 bcm/year of natural gas in 2023. So, this Mauritania project could replace about 13% of this LNG with hydrogen, in 2028.
But, the 25 bcm of natural gas (as LNG) these FSROs will import only makes up for about 46% of the 55 bcm/year of imports Germany lost in 2022, when Russia cutoff flows via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline after its invasion of Ukraine.
There are many other efficiency and cost issues to consider. Whether one uses PEM (proton exchange membrane) or alkyline electrolyzers to produce the hydrogen from renewables, this process is only about 65-70% efficient. That is, 30-45% of the renewable energy is lost right off. (Reference note: According to the Energy Storage Association, in the USA, “Alkaline electrolysis is a mature technology for large systems, whereas PEM (Proton Exchange Membrane) electrolyzers are more flexible and can be used for small decentralized solutions. The conversion efficiency for both technologies is about 65%~70% (lower heating value).” Energy Storage Association (American), website, accessed 01 March 23)
I also mentioned the problems with transporting H2 from Mauritania to Germany.
To be liquified for transport, hydrogen gas must be cooled much lower than when natural gas is liquified for transport. Increasingly, German hydrogen boosters are recognizing this hydrogen-transport problem and are advocating that “green hydrogen” produced in Africa or Latin America for Germany should first be converted into “green ammonia” (i.e., by chemically combining hydrogen with nitrogen, three-atoms-to-one, to produce NH3).
Of course, this process consumes still more of the renewable energy Mauritania would be producing, lowering the overall efficiency of producing green energy transportable from Africa to Germany.
So, will Germany eventually receive the output of a 10 GW production facility for green hydrogen in Mauritania – or even 0.4 GWh of hydrogen by 2028? One notes that there was no clear indication in the announcement of the MOU’s that this project would even necessarily supply Germany. The hydrogen might be retained for use in Africa itself.
The project is of course technically possible. As I said on air, Germany is an industrially developed and capital-rich country. The real question is, even if significantly larger volumes of green hydrogen could somehow be produced within a decade or so in a sunny and windy place like Mauritania — or in Namibia, where Chancellor Scholz also recently announced a similar green hydrogen deal – what would it cost to replace the huge amounts of LNG Germany will be importing?
And, it clearly will not be available soon enough to get Germany off its present path of partial deindustrialization, especially in energy-intensive sectors. This requires rapid and affordable replacement of the Russian natural gas the country was so blithely and stubbornly over-reliant on before the war began.
Likely the more immediate and pragmatic interest of the Scholz government is in securing a share of the new LNG from deep offshore jointly-held fields of Mauritania and Senegal, to come online in 2024, (See: BP, Kosmos Expecting First LNG from Mauritania and Senegal Project by Early 2024 – Natural Gas Intelligence )
The German coalition government led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz faces an ongoing energy dilemma – both in finding enough traditional, fossil fuel energy right now to prevent further “deindustrialization” and, simultaneously to line up sufficient “green energy” sources to soon replace these new imports in order to meet what I have termed (coined as) the country’s “renewable fundamentalist” goals of “100% renewables and no fossil fuels or nuclear.”
The faster the Ukrainian military, with transatlantic and other allies’ assistance, can push back and defeat the present Russian invasion and end the war, the sooner the present energy war complication heaped upon Germany’s impractical renewables-fundamentalist energy-transition plan (the Energiewende), might be lessened. However, even before this war, the crisis of the Energiewende, the maximalist, all-renewable “German Model of Energy Transition,” was already evident.
Bibliography / Further Reading:
Mauritania set to export green hydrogen to Germany | DW Business – YouTube
Consortium signs $34 billion MoU for hydrogen project in Mauritania | Reuters
German, UAE, Egypt consortium sign $34bn deal for hydrogen project in Mauritania – World – Business Recorder
(173) Green hydrogen: Is the Global South paying for Germany’s energy transition? | DW News – YouTube
Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions and energy transition targets | Clean Energy Wire
Green pioneer Germany struggles to make climate protection a reality | Clean Energy Wire
Factbox: Germany fires up extra coal power capacity to plug winter supplies | Reuters
‘Intensive use’ of German coal power plants releases additional 15 mio t of CO2 in 2022 – report | Clean Energy Wire
Germany expects to import 25 billion cubic metres of LNG in 2023
Mauritania: Freedom in the World 2022 Country Report | Freedom House
Explore the Map | Freedom House
BP, Kosmos Expecting First LNG from Mauritania and Senegal Project by Early 2024 – Natural Gas Intelligence
Mauritania – Offshore Technology
Senegal, Mauritania agree to cooperate on giant offshore gas field | Reuters