Singapore is committed to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and hydrogen is a key plank of Singapore’s clean energy transition plans. According to Singapore’s National Hydrogen Strategy (NHS), hydrogen is outlined to account for at least half of Singapore’s entire fuel mix by 2050 (2050 Hydrogen Goal). In his recent speech at the Ministry of Trade and Industry’s (MTI) Committee of Supply Debate on 28 February 2023, the Second Minister for Trade and Industry, Mr Tan See Leng, re-emphasised the importance of hydrogen as a major decarbonisation pathway.
“MTI launched Singapore’s National Hydrogen Strategy which sets out plans to develop hydrogen as a major decarbonisation pathway for our power and industry sectors, to support Singapore’s commitment to achieve net-zero by 2050. Like LNG, hydrogen can be imported from various sources around the world, which enhances energy security and resilience. It is also a potential alternative to fossil fuels in the maritime and aviation sectors.
A key prong of our strategy is to experiment with the use of advanced hydrogen technologies on the cusp of commercial readiness. EMA (the Energy Market Authority) and MPA (the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore) have launched an expression of interest for utilizing ammonia for power generation and to support maritime bunkering needs. Since then, we have received strong interest from industry players as well as international partners.”
The combustion of hydrogen is entirely emission-free; the only byproduct is water. However, hydrogen is not a fully developed decarbonisation pathway yet. Technology relating to the production, distribution, storage and end-use of hydrogen is full of potential but still relatively nascent. Also, Singapore is largely restricted to being a net importer of hydrogen due to a limited land area, high urban density and a limited potential for renewable energy. As a result, Singapore could be adversely affected by any volatility in the production of hydrogen overseas and international cooperation in the trade of hydrogen.
Does the NHS stand up to these potential headwinds? In our view, the NHS is a commendable start but more needs to be done if Singapore is to achieve its 2050 Hydrogen Goal.
The Holy Grail
The 2050 Hydrogen Goal is Singapore’s “Holy Grail”, and is essential to Singapore achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. In order to achieve the 2050 Hydrogen Goal, the NHS broadly targets the adoption of hydrogen across the power generation, industry, maritime, aviation and land transport sectors. Together, these sectors account for 97.9 per cent of Singapore’s current greenhouse gas emissions.
The NHS focuses on:
- Experimenting with the use of advanced hydrogen technologies at the cusp of commercial readiness through pathfinder projects. Singapore will be experimenting with advanced hydrogen technologies in an incremental manner and will start with pathfinder projects in ammonia power generation and maritime bunkering. The EMA and MPA have launched an expression of interest process to build, own and operate low or zero-carbon power generation and bunkering projects on Jurong Island. Proposals are due by the end of April 2023. On an international level, the MPA and Jurong Port have also joined the multinational Castor Initiative to ensure and support the complete ecosystem required for ammonia-fuelled tankers to operate sustainably and safely.
- Investing in research and development to unlock key technological bottlenecks. Research and development (R&D) efforts will be organised around being able to import, store, handle and utilise hydrogen (and all carrier forms deemed suitable for Singapore) safely, economically and at scale. This will include technologies relating to improving the process of liberating hydrogen, improving the economics of transporting and storing liquefied hydrogen, utilising hydrogen in sector applications and managing hydrogen and ammonia deployment safely.
- Pursuing international collaborations to enable supply chains for low-carbon hydrogen. The NHS also envisions Singapore working closely with industry and international partners to enable the formation and scaling up of supply chains for low-carbon hydrogen. Such efforts include advancing the development of Guarantee of Origin certification methodologies, ensuring that methodologies are interoperable across jurisdictions, and building a trading and financing ecosystem to facilitate global trade of low-carbon hydrogen.
- Undertaking long-term land and infrastructure planning as well as supporting workforce training and development of our broader economy. In the future, Singapore will also develop the land and infrastructure needed to import, store, distribute and transform hydrogen into power, and pace the implementation of such developments incrementally in accordance with safety concerns, technological developments and costs. At the same time, the NHS strives to ensure that all Singaporeans can share in the opportunities presented by the hydrogen economy by encouraging workers to develop and equip themselves with the necessary skills.
A step in the right direction
Taking a pragmatic view of Singapore’s unique circumstances, the necessity of international cooperation to facilitate the global trade of hydrogen and the present state of technological developments, the NHS provides a firm foothold for Singapore to pursue its 2050 Hydrogen Goal.
Due to a limited land area, high urban density and limited potential for producing renewable energy locally, it is not presently feasible for Singapore to produce hydrogen locally. It is therefore prudent that Singapore commits to being a net importer of hydrogen instead.
As a net importer, Singapore will be dependent on international hydrogen supply chains and the production of hydrogen overseas. However, there are presently no international standards or universal methodologies for determining the greenhouse gas emissions of hydrogen production. As a result, various countries have adopted differing regulations for hydrogen which could potentially skew producers towards cheaper, more carbon-intensive hydrogen production methods for low-cost export to regions with lenient or no regulations, leaving little supply for countries with more stringent regulations. International cooperation is therefore necessary to harmonise global hydrogen regulations and facilitate international trade in hydrogen. It remains to be seen if Singapore, which regularly punches above its weight in international affairs, can advance the development of globally harmonised regulations to measure the greenhouse gas emissions of hydrogen production.
Technology relating to the import, storage, handling and utilisation of hydrogen is still relatively nascent. By leveraging on its unique position as a net importer of hydrogen, strong R&D ecosystem, ability to attract investments from technology companies and dense urban grid, Singapore can develop large-scale test-beds to test different technologies together and assess how they interoperate in the grid. The Low-Carbon Energy Research (LCER) Funding Initiative (FI) is the primary weapon in Singapore’s R&D arsenal. As part of the first phase of the LCER FI, Singapore has awarded S$55 million to projects in areas such as the development of catalysts for ammonia cracking and methane pyrolysis. An additional S$129 million has been earmarked for the second phase of the LCER FI.