Russia has proposed a link-up with Opec lynchpin Saudi Arabia on hydrogen production projects, with co-operation in nuclear also on the cards.

“We have a proposal to create a working group on hydrogen energy," Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said during an online meeting of the Russia–Saudi Arabia intergovernmental commission earlier this week.

The proposed group will also consider joint options in developing energy storage solutions, he added.

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Novak said that technical and economic co-operation between the two countries — the key players in the Opec+ alliance created to help balance the oil market amid plunging demand last year — has been growing steadily in recent years.

Besides co-operation in cleaner fuels, both countries may work together in nuclear generation projects, Novak said.

Kremlin on high alert

Industry analysts in Moscow said the Kremlin is closely watching Saudi Arabia's hydrogen moves as Russia is seen as lagging behind other countries in its efforts to switch its oil and gas industry towards greener energy sources.

Russian authorities last year unveiled ambitious hydrogen production and export plans in an effort to maintain a hold over the European energy market, which is forecast to use less Russian oil and gas each year as it increases renewable energy usage.

The country passed a roadmap calling for state-controlled gas monopoly Gazprom and nuclear player Rosatom to test solutions to produce grey hydrogen from gas, with a goal of enabling hydrogen exports of 2 million tonnesper annum by 2035.

Saudi blue hydrogen project

This roadmap was hastily approved by the Russian government after Saudi Arabia revealed in July last year what it billed as the world’s largest hydrogen project, with 4 gigawatts of renewables powering massive production of green hydrogen.

The envisaged $5 billion project is a joint venture between US Air Products, Saudi renewables developer ACWA Power and NEOM, a high-tech regional development initiative under construction near the Red Sea in north-west Saudi Arabia that will host the giant facility.

The proposal will link wind, solar and carbon capture and storage facilities to produce 650 tonnes per day of hydrogen using electrolysis. The plan is to use hydrogen to produce ammonia for export.

While Russian independent gas producer Novatek indicated that it is also looking at options to produce and ship hydrogen as ammonia, Gazprom has so far focused on mixing hydrogen into existing gas streams to enable its shipment to customers via existing pipelines.

China focus

Saudi state oil giant Saudi Aramco plans to “expand and intensify” its co-operation with China on research in areas including hydrogen and ammonia production from gas, chief executive Amin Nasser said at the China Development Forum in Beijing in March.

Aramco is looking to work with China on blue hydrogen and ammonia, synthetic fuels and carbon capture, utilisation and storage, Nasser said.

“All of these are essential to achieving our long-term, low-carbon ambitions,” he said.