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Uzbekistan eyes hydrogen as part of energy transition

Uzbekistan eyes hydrogen as part of energy transition
Photo: Getty Images

Uzbekistan is eyeing hydrogen, one of the planet’s most prevalent elements, as a cornerstone of its energy transition. Hydrogen fuel has been heralded as a clean form of energy—only water is formed during combustion. Moreover, hydrogen is more energy efficient than fossil fuels. However, the production of the fuel remains expensive, and the lack of infrastructure for transportation and storage requires large-scale investment.

Today, hydrogen is mainly used in industrial applications, including chemical production, ferrous metallurgy, and gas processing. In Uzbekistan, large enterprises such as the Almalyk and Navoi mining and metallurgical plants, as well as state chemicals giant Uzkimyosanoat, have capacities for the production of industrial hydrogen. However, all enterprises in Uzbekistan use electrolysis technology, which is economically disadvantageous. 

“To produce one unit of hydrogen, you need to spend three to four units of energy.  It is economically counterproductive. Europe is now getting hydrogen by cracking methane, but again, to separate CH4, a temperature of 1200 degrees is needed. This requires energy, which so far is mainly obtained from natural gas.  It’s not exactly ‘green’ hydrogen anymore,” notes Odilhoja Parpiev, director of the Physical-Technical Institute of Physics-Sun, a national science academy.

According to the Hydrogen Council, an industry group, 228 large-scale hydrogen projects have been announced worldwide, 85 percent of which are in Europe, Asia, and Australia. If all projects are realised, then by 2030 the total investment in the industry will exceed $300 billion. 

According to Parpiev, Uzbek policymakers see hydrogen not as a panacea, but as an opportunity to reduce dependence on oil and gas. “In a maximum of 100 years, there will be no oil and gas, in Uzbekistan—it could be as soon as 30 years. Therefore, the government has decided to develop hydrogen energy in Uzbekistan, as it is an inexhaustible source of energy.”

By the end of the year, Uzbekistan will launch a strategy for the development of hydrogen energy as part of its wider energy transition plan.

At the initial stage, Uzbekistan is partnering with Saudi Arabia, which, according to the Minister of Investment Khaled Al-Falih, has high hopes for cooperation. Saudi Arabia’s ACWA Power has launched a $1.2 billion hydrogen project, breaking ground on a 1500MW power plant in Sirdarya. The parties also plan to establish a Research Center in Uzbekistan.

“Uzbekistan has the necessary potential to become the largest energy player in the region and Saudi Arabia is ready to become a strategic partner, attract large investments and advanced technologies such as hydrogen energy, as well as establish training programs for personnel,” Al-Falih told reporters in January.

Researchers in Uzbekistan are also hoping to contribute to the global push for hydrogen technology. The Institute of Materials Science is testing new methods for economical hydrogen production. One promising development is the production of hydrogen from water in a photocatalytic method, using the Physics-Sun solar furnace, one of the word’s largest, to produce the energy required without emissions. 

Uzbekistan is aiming to become Central Asia’s leader in hydrogen technology. “These are our first steps, a whole complex of research and experiments is needed here. So far, there is a big problem we face is personnel as until recently no one was purposefully engaged in hydrogen energy. If we start now, then in 4-5 years we will have a capable team,” notes Parpiev.