Extreme E Is First Sport Powered By ‘Completely Clean’ Energy

One of the many challenges of running auto races in inhospitable and remote locations is providing adequate on-site power supply – especially if your race cars are electric powered. Extreme E has set itself the task of showing how such an off-grid supply can nevertheless be provided in a sustainable manner. But as Season 3 opens in Neom, Saudi Arabia, Extreme E uses the event to showcase the potential of hydrogen on a much larger scale than just remote power.

For the past two seasons, Extreme E has partnered with AFC to deliver its off-grid green power using pure hydrogen. However, this can be difficult to obtain in some countries, leading to the need for a combustion generator backup. Therefore, for most of Season 3, Extreme E will be working with Kaizen Clean Energy to use the hydrogen transported to its race sites as methanol. However, for the Season 3 kick-off in Neom, Extreme E is relying on its existing partnership with ENOWA to provide enough green hydrogen for the entire event.

This has led the racing series to claim that, entering Season 3, Extreme E will become the first sport to go fully powered by fully clean energy. For the Saudi Arabian race, the hydrogen will be produced on-site at Neom using renewable solar energy from the amazing amount of sunshine in this part of the world, with desalinated water sourced from the nearby Red Sea. “It all starts with sun and water,” says Roland Kaeppner, Executive Director of Hydrogen and Green Fuels, ENOWA. “We split water with renewable energy to produce hydrogen and oxygen. Then here at Extreme E, we reverse that process and use green, renewable hydrogen plus oxygen from the air to create power and water. It’s a circular process. The plant here can generate a megawatt of power. It’s the first of its kind. It’s electrifying the whole race, not just for charging the cars, but for the paddocks and all. The system also produces 500 liters of water per hour.”

The desalinated seawater used to make the hydrogen could pose a problem, as the salty brine by-product is another type of pollution. “Discharging concentrated salt back into the sea would be harmful to our coastal environment,” says Kaeppner. “So we’re ‘brine mining’ – we’re taking out all the minerals, magnesium, lithium salts and making something out of it.” This will be essential given the scale of the operations. “We are building the largest green hydrogen plant in the world at Neom, 200 times larger than anything built before. We have already started construction. It will produce 650 tons of green hydrogen per day, so a huge investment. This is where Neom and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are leading future energy technologies.”

ENOWA does not see hydrogen as the solution to all energy problems, but there is an immediate need to replace hydrogen produced from fossil fuels with green hydrogen. “There are huge amounts of ‘low hanging fruit’ here,” says Kaeppner. “We can replace non-green hydrogen used in fertilizer and steel production. We could easily decarbonize a significant part of the industry here, and that’s where I think the first applications will come. The entire solution space for redefining things ranges from batteries to synthetic fuels. And for every technology there is a sweet spot. Green hydrogen will be part of the solution. You will never see a 787 airplane running on hydrogen, but on sustainable aviation fuels. You can use the green hydrogen and carbon capture to make these synthetic fuels. We’re building a huge synthetic fuel factory. It will produce 35 barrels per day, equivalent to about 6,000 liters of carbon capture-based synthetic gasoline. The DNA of everything is green hydrogen, which comes from the sun.”

However, Kaeppner does not necessarily see hydrogen-powered passenger cars. “If we look at cars in big cities, it’s a battery room,” he says. “Batteries are much more efficient. But when it comes to heavy buses and trucks, hydrogen can make a contribution. We are building the second filling station in the kingdom for hydrogen trucks and buses here in Neom. This will be up and running in a month. But a lot of the transportation we will have in Neom will be battery electric.”

Hydrogen could also be an opportunity for new players to become leaders in the energy business. “Everything used to be dominated by countries that had access to hydrocarbons,” says Kaeppner. “But now all these countries that don’t have oil and gas can become energy suppliers. They have sun, they can become independent. It will be a massive energy revolution because all these countries will be able to produce their own energy. The thing about hydrogen is that when you produce it in an environmentally friendly way by electrolysis, the main raw material is electricity. They want to do that where electricity is cheap, where UV radiation increases solar efficiency. So countries like Australia or Saudi Arabia that are close to that sun exposure will be the ones that produce the cheapest renewable electricity.”

While renewable energy and its use to produce hydrogen could benefit countries that have not been energy giants in the past, Saudi Arabia clearly sees the potential to continue its own energy dominance. While the fossil fuel business still has plenty of life, there are already signs that it has “peaked oil,” making it imperative for those who have amassed wealth in this industry to use that wealth to find more environmental technology to develop while they can. “Saudi Arabia is already a leader in green hydrogen,” says Kaeppner. “We are building the world’s largest plant for green hydrogen here. The Kingdom currently has a very prestigious strategy to become the clean energy leader. We are working hard to become the leading country that produces and delivers clean, cheap hydrogen to the world.”

This is clearly a key strategy for Saudi Arabia. His Royal Highness Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal, Chairman of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation and Saudi Motorsport Company (they have long titles in this part of the world), says: “It is very important. We have an obligation to find a new, clean source of energy. We were pioneers in providing the world with energy from oil. But we also want to preserve this world. We want to shift our economy from oil to a new clean energy source because we have a responsibility to sustain the world. Hopefully we can achieve this with our investment in hydrogen and offer sustainable, clean energy to industry.”

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