Last week’s joint launch (at the Africa Climate Summit) of green hydrogen project by President Wiliam Ruto and EU partners signified entry of hydrogen into Kenya’s economy.
Hydrogen will be produced from water electrolysis (splitting water molecules) using renewable energy.
High flame temperatures (plus 2000 deg C ) make hydrogen suitable for industrial heating, replacing imported coal and fuel oil.
When burned, hydrogen reverts to water vapour with zero-carbon emission. With hydrogen production, the necessity to import natural gas (LNG) for industrial heating will significantly diminish.
Secondly, hydrogen will be combined with nitrogen from air to make ammonia (NH4) which is an input in manufacture of ammonium-based fertilizers, much needed for Kenya’s food production.
Therefore, using the cheapest and mostly available raw materials (water and air) Kenya will expand three critical economic sectors – energy, agriculture, and industries.
Partnerships with EU governments and investors mean that funding for green hydrogen ventures in Kenya is virtually guaranteed.
Where to locate hydrogen projects is a critical strategic decision which must be made with project output unit costs in mind. The source of water must be sustainably sufficient without negative socio-economic impacts.
Fresh water sources are preferred since use of ocean water will require more energy inputs to desalinate the water ahead of electrolysis.
Low-cost renewable energy (solar, geothermal, hydro, wind ) should be available in the vicinity of freshwater supply.
Long-distance transportation of hydrogen by pipelines is an expensive proposition , making it essential to locate hydrogen-consuming industries near the source of fresh water and cheap renewable power.
Solar power plants afford the greatest flexibility for site location, as they are scalable and permit industries to be located anywhere adjacent to freshwater sources.
Other future technological opportunities exist for green hydrogen, which is a credible competitor for e-mobility batteries.
Hydrogen cell technology is already in use in road transportation especially for large freight trucks. This technology is also evolving fast in green marine transportation to replace high carbon fuel oil.
Further, many countries with plenty of sunshine hours are planning to invest in solar power to produce hydrogen for exports in the form of liquid ammonia.
Once commenced, green hydrogen technologies will evolve to be an integral feature of our economy. It is an important substitution venture that directly reduces fuel and fertiliser import costs while strengthening the shilling.