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Morocco aims for global green hydrogen role

With vast solar and wind capacity, Morocco is preparing to create green ammonia for fertiliser as an early step to building a ‘power-to-X’ industry

Morocco believes it can capture 4-8pc of the fledgling global power-to-X (PtX) market, which utilises excess renewable electricity to make green hydrogen, synthetic natural gas and industrial liquids among other products.

Achieving this target will require multibillion-dollar investments to expand the country’s renewable power capacity. To this end, Morocco has forged close ties with Germany, signing a memorandum of understanding in July to develop its PtX industry and build Africa’s first industrial green hydrogen plant. The announcement came just a month after Europe’s largest economy unveiled a hydrogen strategy that includes investing €2bn ($2.38bn) in projects abroad.

“Morocco has the right conditions to become a major supplier of carbon-neutral energy sources,” states a feasibility report by research organisation the Fraunhofer Institute on behalf of the German-Moroccan Energy Partnership.

“Morocco has the right conditions to become a major supplier of carbon-neutral energy sources” Fraunhofer Institute

Yet Fraunhofer also warns that surplus electricity from renewable power plants is limited and would allow for hydrogen electrolysis only during full-load hours.

Morocco’s installed renewable energy capacity is 3,685MW, of which 1,770MW is hydroelectric, 1,215MW solar and 700MW wind. By 2030, the country aims to derive 52pc of its electricity from renewable sources, which equates to c.11GW, according to a report by German thinktank Dii Desert Energy.

Morocco’s potential capacity is 20,000GW for photovoltaic and 6,500MW for wind, according to Iresen, the country’s solar and new energy research institute.

Iresen says locally made green hydrogen could be used in the short term as an industrial feedstock and for export—as liquid fuels, hydrogen and ammonia. In the medium term, it can power trucks and public transport as well as stabilise the electricity grid. Long term, the hydrogen may provide industrial heating and power passenger vehicles, aeroplanes and trains, Iresen claims.

Fertiliser demand

Morocco holds 70pc of the world’s phosphate reserves, according to state-owned entity OCP, which is responsible for mining and processing the rock. To make fertiliser, OCP—the world’s top phosphate exporter, according to its annual report—imports around 2mn t/yr of ammonia. This could be replaced by locally manufactured green ammonia, says Iresen director-general Badr Ikken.

But to replace OCP’s ammonia imports with indigenous green ammonia, “they would need to build gigawatts of solar and wind”, says Frank Wouters, global lead for clean hydrogen at engineering group Worley in Abu Dhabi. 

Morocco is targeting green ammonia “because there is an existing infrastructure for that”, says Wouters. “You do not have to reinvent the wheel. You do not have to design brand new vessels for liquid hydrogen. Also, liquefaction involves a lot of capex, whereas ammonia is an easier thing to do,” he adds.

By acting as an offtaker for the fledgling hydrogen industry, OCP’s involvement should also help secure the funding required to build the necessary renewables capacity, says Ikken. “Regarding the partnership with Europe, especially Germany, we would do the same with offtakers there,” he says.

11GW – Government’s 2030 renewables capacity target

“Some ambitious projects will be operational by 2025. Between 2025 and 2030, we will need to have access to development banks, [international financial institutions] and so on. Our expectations are that, by 2028-2030, we might be able to reach parity with hydrogen made from fossil fuels.”

Morocco has launched a tender to build a pilot green ammonia plant, which will test twoelectrolyser techniques to compare the impact of electricity generation intermittence. Fraunhofer estimates it will produce around 4t of ammonia daily. Construction will take around 15 months and should start in 2021, says Ikken.

Morocco also plans to build a 100MW green hydrogen plant. This should be operational in 2024 or 2025, predicts Ikken, noting Germany is participating in the pilot.

Eventually, one-third of Morocco’s green hydrogen could be consumed domestically, with two-thirds exported, he predicts.

Europe could import hydrogen manufactured in North Africa through the existing gas pipeline network, according to the Dii Desert Energy report. Ikken, who co-wrote the report, believes Morocco could export hydrogen via gas pipelines in the long term, but initially it makes more sense to convert hydrogen into ammonia or methanol for export via ship.

“We have existing facilities in which we are importing these materials, so we could use the same infrastructure to export them,” adds Ikken.

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