‘Fuel of the future’ comes of age as Aramco opens first hydrogen filling station

Fatih Birol is the executive director of the International Energy Agency. (Reuters)
Updated 18 June 2019
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‘Fuel of the future’ comes of age as Aramco opens first hydrogen filling station

  • Fatih Birol’s comments were a deliberate poke at those experts who think that the sheer logistics of hydrogen make it always an unlikely solution to global energy challenges
  • Birol’s article was followed by a report from the IEA that put some meat on the bones of the argument that hydrogen is key to solving problems such as global warming

DUBAI: Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, cracked a joke in the Financial Times a couple of weeks ago.
“Hydrogen is the fuel of the future, and it always will be,” he wrote about the fuel that many experts agree could hold the key to the world’s energy problems.
It was a deliberate poke at those experts who think that the sheer logistics of hydrogen — generation, storage, and transportation — make it always an unlikely solution to global energy challenges.
Birol’s article was followed by a report from the IEA that put some meat on the bones of the argument that hydrogen is key to solving such problems as global warming and environmental degradation.
“The world has an important opportunity to tap into hydrogen’s vast potential to become a critical part of a more sustainable and secure energy future … The world should not miss this unique chance to make hydrogen an important part of our clean and secure energy future,” the report said.
That argument will get a critical boost today, when Saudi Aramco, the biggest oil company in the world, opens its first hydrogen fueling station in Dhahran Techno Valley, in the heart of the Kingdom’s oil producing region.
Aramco has partnered with Air Products, a US company that has been a pioneer in the use of industrial gases, to produce a filling station for hydrogen-fueled vehicles.

 

It is very much a test. “The collected data during this pilot phase of the project will provide valuable information for the assessment of future applications of this emerging transport technology in the local environment,” Aramco said when the project was first announced.
But it is something Aramco has been investigating for a long time. Ahmed Al-Khowaiter, Aramco’s chef technology officer, said: “The use of hydrogen derived from oil or gas to power fuel cell electric vehicles represents an exciting opportunity to expand the use of oil in clean transport.”
Hydrogen — essentially what is left when you take the oxygen out of water — has been recognized as a potential fuel source for many decades. Motor manufacturers developed a hydrogen motor engine 50 years ago, but the ease and accessibility of hydrocarbon fuels — oil, gas and coal — made it uneconomic to develop this technology beyond the prototype stage.
Now, as the debate over the role of hydrocarbons in the global environmental balance has become ever more intense, some experts, including Birol and other influential parts of the thought-leadership establishment, believe hydrogen is the next Big Thing in global energy trends.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) said recently that “green” hydrogen offers a solution to the world energy challenge, and that is the problem the theoreticians are struggling with: Hydrogen is released naturally in the process of burning hydrocarbons, but it is self-defeating, in an environmental sense. if you have to burn oil, gas or coal to produce it.
On the other hand, renewable sources, like sun, wind and water, do not produce enough hydrogen to be practically or commercially viable, and not at the right times, when people actually need it.
But, as the WEF noted recently “low-cost green hydrogen is coming”, as technology advances mean the cost of renewable energy falls dramatically each year. The Middle East already has a very big and very cost-efficient program for solar energy generation.
The other challenges lay in how to store and transport hydrogen. It can be loaded onto a tanker like LNG, or pushed through pipelines, but it would require a huge investment to change current logistics systems — essentially designed for oil and LNG — to handle hydrogen.
Many countries, including Saudi Arabia, already have the infrastructure associated with oil and gas refining and petrochemicals production to be able to equip “hydrogen hubs,” as long as there is government will and commercial incentive to do so.
For the Kingdom, it looks like a no-brainer for the future. As Birol said: “So, hydrogen offers tantalising promises of cleaner industry and emissions-free power. Turning it into energy produces only water, not greenhouse gases. It’s also the most abundant element in the universe. What’s not to like?”

FASTFACTS

Technological advances mean low-cost ‘green’ hydrogen offers a solution to the world energy challenge, according to the World Economic Forum.


Debut of China’s Nasdaq-style board adds $44bn in market cap

Updated 22 July 2019
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Debut of China’s Nasdaq-style board adds $44bn in market cap

  • Activity draws attention away from main board

BEIJING: Trading on China’s new Nasdaq-style board for homegrown tech firms hit fever pitch on Monday, with shares up as much as 520 percent in a wild debut that more than doubled the exchange’s combined market capitalization and beat veteran investors’ expectations.

Sixteen of the first batch of 25 companies — ranging from chip-makers to health care firms — increased their already frothy initial public offering (IPO) prices by 136 percent on the STAR Market, operated by the Shanghai Stock Exchange.

The raucous first day of trade tripped the exchange’s circuit breakers that are designed to calm frenzied activity. The weakest performer leapt 84.22 percent. In total, the day saw the creation of around 305 billion yuan ($44.3 billion) in new market capitalization on top of an initial market cap of around 225 billion yuan, according to Reuters’ calculations.

“The price gains are crazier than we expected,” said Stephen Huang, vice president of Shanghai See Truth Investment Management. “These are good companies, but valuations are too high. Buying them now makes no sense.”

Modelled after Nasdaq, and complete with a US-style IPO system, STAR may be China’s boldest attempt at capital market reforms yet. It is also seen driven by Beijing’s ambition to become technologically self-reliant as a prolonged trade war with Washington catches Chinese tech firms in the crossfire.

Trading in Anji Microelectronics Technology (Shanghai) Co. Ltd., a semiconductor firm, was briefly halted twice as the company’s shares hit two circuit breakers — first after rising 30 percent, then after climbing 60 percent from the market open.

HIGHLIGHTS

• 16 of 25 STAR Market firms more than double from IPO price.

• Weakest performer gains 84 percent, average gain of 140 percent.

• STAR may be China’s boldest attempt at capital market reforms yet.

The mechanisms did little to keep Anji shares in check as they soared as much as 520 percent from their IPO price in the morning session. Anji shares ended the day up 400.2 percent from their IPO price, the day’s biggest gain, giving the company a valuation of nearly 242 times 2018 earnings.

Suzhou Harmontronics Automation Technology Co. Ltd., in contrast, triggered its circuit breaker in the opposite direction, falling 30 percent from the market open in early trade before rebounding. But by the market close, the company’s shares were still 94.61 percent higher than their IPO price.

Wild share price swings, partly the result of loose trading rules, had been widely expected. IPOs had been oversubscribed by an average of about 1,700 times among retail investors.

The STAR Market sets no limits on share prices during the first five days of a company’s trading. That compares with a cap of 44 percent on debut on other boards in China.

In subsequent trading sessions, stocks on the new tech board will be allowed to rise or fall a maximum 20 percent in a day, double the 10 percent daily limit on other boards.

Regulators last week cautioned individual investors against “blindly” buying STAR Market stocks, but said big fluctuations were normal.

Looser trading rules were aimed at “giving market players adequate freedom in the game, accelerating the formation of equilibrium prices, and boosting price-setting efficiency,” the Shanghai Stock Exchange (SSE) said in a statement on Friday.

The SSE added that it was normal to see big swings in newly listed tech shares, as such companies typically have uncertain prospects, and are difficult to evaluate.