Recently, and particularly in 2019–2020, scholars have been increasingly focusing on the Eastern Mediterranean owing to its importance for global transport routes and its growing energy potential. The energy sources in the Levant basin raise the legitimate question: which approach will prevail? Shall we see cooperation in conflict resolution and in promoting collective security, based on joint building and development of the fields, or shall we see competition destined to exacerbate a situation already fraught with conflicts?
Development of the Fields and Plans for Transporting Resources to Global Markets
The Eastern Mediterranean sub-region is at the juncture of Africa, the Middle East, and Europe, which both makes it hostage to old overlapping conflicts and opens up certain opportunities. It is important to remember that gas reserves in the Mediterranean shelf discovered in the XXI century total over 3.8 trillion cubic meters. The key fields are Zohr off the coast of Egypt, Tamar and Leviathan off the coast of Israel, and Aphrodite off the coast of Cyprus, etc. Additionally, the so- called Block 9 is in a part of the field disputed by Lebanon. We can suppose there are large gas reserves off the Syrian coast, as well. By 2020, development had already been launched on several fields but, on the whole, both this process and its implementation are proceeding in fits and starts since matters have to be approved and agreed between unstable governments and oil companies, and also between states themselves, in the absence of demarcated maritime borders.
For decades, most states of the Levant Basin have imported gas and oil. The Egypt-Israel collaboration in the energy sector exhibits a curious dynamic. Currently, these two states have made the greatest progress in developing gas fields in the Eastern Mediterranean. In 2015, Italy’s Eni discovered the gigantic Zohr field in Egypt, a major Arab state, which allowed Cairo to break the vicious circle of its dependence on imports and to cover its own demand for gas. Egypt now produces about 311 million cubic meters of gas and 700,000 barrels of oil daily (from the deposits in the Western Desert adjacent to Libya). However, in January 2020, gas production also started on Leviathan, the largest field in the Levant Basin located on Israel’s stretch of the shelf, and this marked the start of deliveries of Leviathan-produced gas to Egypt. Noble Energy, which develops Leviathan, contracted to deliver gas to Egypt back in 2018. Noble Energy purchased 10% of Eastern Mediterranean Gas Company, which owns the gas pipeline running from Ashkelon in Israel to El-Arish in Egypt (about 90 km). Even though Egypt has no particular need for gas imports, it is striving to create a gas hub. Egypt is planning to receive gas from neighbouring states, liquefy it at the Egyptian LNG plant (Idku LNG with a capacity of 7.2 m. tonnes a year), and sell it on global markets, sending it by tanker to Europe or Asia.
Egypt’s interests have taken this turn since it has had fewer problems developing and selling its own natural gas, while the situation is somewhat more complicated for Israel. Development of the Tamar and Leviathan gas fields has slowed down owing to the technically challenging gas production process, the high market price of the gas (which makes it difficult to find buyers), and domestic political and regional instability stemming from maritime border demarcation issues.
To settle matters related to the above-mentioned Block 9, Israel engaged in talks with Lebanon on demarcating the maritime border, a historic event in the two states’ bilateral relations. Lebanese officials made every effort to emphasize that these talks were purely technical. International companies are certainly interested in the success of these negotiations; the Total- Eni-Novatek consortium has signed a contract for exploration in Block 9. Despite claims that their talks are exclusively technical, both Israel and Lebanon need these negotiations. For Israel, they will mark another success in gaining regional recognition of its rights while, should development of the gas fields prove successful, they will afford Lebanon a special opportunity to attract additional investment. The gas produced could come in handy for both domestic consumption and exports, which together would constitute an important boost to the crisis- stricken Lebanese economy.
Transporting the gas to Europe demanded that Cyprus be involved. This once again raised the predictable issue of Cyprus and prompted a response from Turkey (which we believe to be somewhat belated). In the course of time, Israel succeeded in securing the support of Egypt, Greece and Cyprus. The latter two states need to be involved for two reasons: the Aphrodite deposit was discovered off the coast of Cyprus and there is also the matter of transporting the Levantine natural gas to Europe. This question has produced the principal frictions concerning the Eastern Mediterranean. The plans to build a pipeline to Europe have not been implemented yet; however, on 2 January 2020, Greece, Cyprus and Israel signed a treaty to construct the 1,900-kilometre EastMed gas pipeline. This question is claimed to be of interest to both Europe and the U.S. as mitigating the risks of dependence on Russian gas (see below for further details). Construction of the gas pipeline with a capacity of 10 billion cubic metres a year is expected to take approximately seven years.
Revitalisation of Ankara’s foreign policy and regional competition in the Eastern Mediterranean While other states in the Eastern Mediterranean (Israel, Egypt, Cyprus, Greece and, to some extent, Lebanon) have attempted to form alliances around the energy sector and gas exports, Turkey has remained on the sidelines. Nevertheless, both the regional reconfiguration and the domestic perturbations that affected Turkey in 2016 after the attempted military coup resulted in Ankara taking more active political steps and shaping its own policy in the Eastern Mediterranean. Before 2016, Turkey strove to apply the “strategic depth” concept formulated in the 2000s by the state’s Foreign Minister and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. Following his resignation in May 2016, and particularly after the attempted military coup, Ankara began to steer a course toward developing a new strategy and becoming actively involved in its neighbours’ affairs.
As a result, Turkey began to drift away from the “strategic depth” concept and toward a policy that is more independent of its traditional partners and also favours tactically advantageous cooperation and going back to using “hard power” … Back in 2006, Turkish Admiral Cem Gürdeniz introduced the “Blue Homeland” (Mavi Vatan) doctrine as part of Turkey’s maritime strategy; Gürdeniz is considered to be one of the principal architects of Turkey’s current policy in the Mediterranean and of the ideology of demarcating the borders with Libya.
The agreements Turkey and the Libyan government concluded in late 2019 resulted from a bilateral Ankara-Tripoli arrangement achieved with complete disregard for other actors and for the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea. Since Turkey is not a signatory to that Convention, Ankara believes it had the right to shape its own bilateral relations, which also implies larger sea spaces for Turkey. Sooner or later, this approach by Turkey will inevitably come up against growing discontent on the part of other states. In this respect, much depends on whether Turkey will make concessions and cut a deal to retain some benefits, or whether it will risk escalating tensions, sanctions and serious economic problems. Turkey’s revitalised policy is reaching its limits. In fact, this policy, pursued as part of Turkey’s “Blue Homeland” doctrine, stems from Ankara’s own missed opportunities. We can expect Turkey’s revitalised policy in the “post-Ottoman” space to peak in late 2020 in the face of the discontent of other actors. It is now crucially important for Turkey to reach a regional consensus with the other states of the Eastern Mediterranean.
The Eastern Mediterranean sub-region has laid bare rifts in adjacent regions: Europe and the Middle East. As far the European dimension is concerned, we are observing a rapprochement between Italy and Turkey while France is building up its military presence in the sub-region and countering Turkey’s objectives. As far as the Middle East is concerned, strife and regional competition are building up between Qatar and Turkey on the one hand, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia and Egypt on the other. The establishment of relations between the UAE and Israel might also entail additional risks for Eastern Mediterranean stability, since the two states’ interests are currently rather convergent and contrary to Ankara’s ambitions in the sub-region. Both Israel and the UAE have a high degree of confidence in Washington and their lobbying potential there. This could deliver a powerful blow to U.S.-Turkey relations, already severely tested in connection with the Syrian Kurds and Fethullah Gülen, the Turkish preacher accused of instigating the 2016 attempted military coup in Turkey.
In these circumstances, the rift within NATO takes on a different hue. So far, truly dangerous developments between France and Turkey, locked in a conflict in the Eastern Mediterranean, have been prevented by NATO having “arbitrators” in the U.S. and Germany. Nevertheless, it appears that joint efforts by NATO’s key members and Russia could create opportunities to develop mechanisms for preventing the situation from deteriorating further and tensions from escalating.
Old resolved conflicts in the sub-region overlap with both revived and new problems. For instance, provided local actors adopt an appropriate approach and external actors focus their attention on the sub-region, the energy sector could form the basis for a future regional security architecture; currently, however, these matters are only exacerbating the regional predicament. As they overlap with the traditional Israeli-Palestinian, Greek-Turkish and Cyprus questions, these developments are encouraging escalation and further competition.
The Global Dimension: The U.S. and Russia in the Eastern Mediterranean
A competitive foundation for international relations is currently solidifying in the Eastern Mediterranean. There are no expectations of a cooperative approach, since one party or another will always have greater ambitions and will attempt to implement exclusion policies. Russia and the U.S. are the key external actors interested in the region’s stability, so it would be expedient for them to work out joint crisis-prevention solutions.
For the U.S., Israel’s security and an Israeli-Palestine settlement, as well as support for NATO’s infrastructure and bodies, remain the key issues in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The latter is particularly important for Americans because they view the Eastern Mediterranean as NATO’s naval gateway to the Black Sea. This approach by the U.S. is destructive for other actors globally and for those directly involved in security issues in the Eastern Mediterranean. Given the serious risks and the fact that the situation could get out of hand, the U.S. have therefore been prompted to recognise, at least at expert level, the need to work on technical deconfliction measures in this part of the world. This requires finding a way to untangle the Cyprus, Libya and Syria questions.
As for Russia’s policy in the Eastern Mediterranean, we should recall Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov visited Damascus and Cyprus in 2020. Mr. Lavrov emphasised that escalation was inadmissible and called for peaceful resolution of the contradictions through dialogue. Bilateral and multilateral dialogue, UN mechanisms, and international law should bring the parties to de-escalate tensions. Russia’s Foreign Minister also said Moscow was ready to act as a mediator should it be necessary. Russia is particularly concerned about the Syrian and Libyan part of the Eastern Mediterranean since Russia has maintained a military presence in Syria since 2015. By 2020, the world had seen the violence in the Syrian crisis abating but, in 2019–2020, both Lebanon and Syria’s economic situation deteriorated steadily and man-made disasters and large-scale wildfires occurred. People’s lives and the overall humanitarian situation were badly affected by the political elites’ inability to settle the crises and by European and American sanctions. Syria and Lebanon’s markets and currencies fell when the U.S. Congress adopted the so-called Caesar Act, a set of sanctions against Syria, and individual sanctions against Lebanon. Moscow, Washington and Damascus need to launch a serious political dialogue (not only at the level of the secret services) concerning the situation surrounding Lebanon and Syria. Further deterioration is fraught with new risks, especially for the neighbours of the two countries.
With no “honest broker” available in the Eastern Mediterranean, the risks of new regional clashes and problems increase. Some states practice a “bloc-based” approach to developing the fields and transporting gas; there are long- standing conflicts (the Cyprus question, the Palestinian question); there are no diplomatic contacts between individual regional actors (for instance, between Turkey and Egypt, between Turkey and Syria); all these factors exacerbate mistrust and undermine regional security. The Eastern Mediterranean states are committed to resolving economic interaction issues through dialogue provided there are one or more independent actors capable of taking various interests into account and finding solutions. Such a development would create an avenue for building confidence and could even result in collective security elements. (The European Coal and Steel Community played a role in the emergence of the OSCE, so a gas community in the Eastern Mediterranean could advance sub-regional integration and security). Given the U.S.’ interest in the region and the role it plays there, this issue could be put on the Russia-U.S. bilateral agenda with a view to achieving the most secure, acceptable and inclusive result.
First published in RIAC and ISPI Joint Report “After the Storm: Post-Pandemic Trends in the Southern Mediterranean”.
Oil and the new world order: China, Iran and Eurasia
The world oil market will undergo a fundamental change in the future. Choosing petrodollars or oil wars is no longer a question that can be answered. With the Strategic Agreement on the Comprehensive Economic and Security Partnership between China and Iran officially signed by the Foreign Ministers of both countries in Tehran on March 27, 2021, the petrodollar theorem is broken and the empire built by the US dollar is cracked.
This is because the petrodollar has not brought substantial economic development to the oil-producing countries in the Middle East during over half a century of linkage to the US dollar.
The Middle East countries generally have not their own industrial systems. The national economies are heavily dependent on oil exports and imports of cereals and industrial products. The national finances are driven by the US dollar and the financial system that follows it.
If the Middle East countries wanted to escape the control of the dollar, they should face the threat of war from the United States and its allies – things we have seen over and over again. Just think of Saddam Hussein being supported when he was fighting Iran and later being Public Enemy No. 1 when he started trading oil in euros.
The West has always wanted the Middle East to be an oil ‘sacred cow’ and has not enabled it to develop its own modern industrial system: the lack of progress in the Middle East was intended as long-term blackmail.
In the Western system of civilisation based on exchange of views and competition, the West is concerned that Iran and the entire Middle East may once again restore the former glory and hegemony of the Persian, Arab and Ottoman empires.
China is facing the exploitation of the global oil market and the threat of its supply disruption. Relying on industrial, financial, and military strength, Europe and the United States control the oil production capital, trade markets, dollar settlements, and global waterways that make up the entire petrodollar world order, differentiating China and the Middle East and dividing the world on the basis of the well-known considerations. You either choose the dollar or you choose war – and the dollar has long been suffering.
Just as in ancient times nomadic tribes blocked the Silk Road and monopolised trade between East and West, Europe and the United States are holding back and halting cooperation and development of the whole of Asia and the rest of the planet. Centuries ago, it was a prairie cavalry, bows, arrows and scimitars: today it is a navy ship and a financial system denominated in dollars.
Therefore, China and Iran, as well as the entire Middle East, are currently looking for ways to avoid middlemen and intermediaries and make the difference. If there is another strong power that can provide military security and at the same time offer sufficient funds and industrial products, the whole Middle East oil can be freed from the dominance of the dollar and can trade directly to meet demand, and even introduce new modern industrial systems.
Keeping oil away from the US dollar and wars and using oil for cooperation, mutual assistance and common development is the inner voice of the entire Middle East and developing countries: a power that together cannot be ignored in the world.
The former Soviet Union had hoped to use that power and strength to improve its system. However, it overemphasised its own geostrategic and paracolonial interests – turning itself into a social-imperialist superpower competing with the White House. Moreover, the USSR lacked a cooperative and shared mechanism to strengthen its alliances, and eventually its own cronies began to rebel as early as the 1960s.
More importantly – although the Soviet Union at the time could provide military security guarantees for allied countries – it was difficult for it to provide economic guarantees and markets, although the Soviet Union itself was a major oil exporter. The natural competitive relationship between the Soviet Union and the Middle East, as well as the Soviet Union’s weak industrial capacity, eventually led to the disintegration of the whole system, starting with the defection of Sadat’s Egypt in 1972. Hence the world reverted to the unipolarised dollar governance once the Soviet katekon collapsed nineteen years later.
With the development and rise of its economy, however, now China has also begun to enter the world scene and needs to establish its own new world order, after being treated as a trading post by Britain in the 19th century, later divided into zones of influence by the West and Japan, and then quarantined by the United States after the Second World War.
Unlike the US and Soviet world order, China’s proposal is not a paracolonial project based on its own national interests, nor is it an old-fashioned “African globalisation” plan based on multinationals, and it is certainly not an ideological export.
For years, there has been talk of Socialism with Chinese characteristics and certainly not of attempts to impose China’s Marxism on the rest of the world, as was the case with Russia. China, instead, wishes to have a new international economic order characterised by cooperation, mutual assistance and common development.
Unlike the Western civilisation based on rivalry and competition, the Eastern civilisation, which pays more attention to harmony without differences and to coordinated development, is trying to establish a new world economic order with a completely different model from those that wrote history in blood.
Reverting to the previous treaty, between the US dollar and the war, China has offered Iran and even the world a third choice. China seems increasingly willing to exist as a service provider. This seems to be more useful for China, first of all to solve its own problems and not to get involved in endless international disputes.
It can thus be more accepted by all countries around the world and unite more States to break the joint encirclement of the “democratic” and liberal imperialism of Europe and the United States.
Consequently, China and Iran – whose origins date back almost to the same period – met at a critical moment in history. According to the Strategic Agreement on Comprehensive Economic and Security Partnership between China and Iran, China will invest up to 400 billion dollars in dozens of oil fields in Iran over the next 25 years, as well as in banking, telecommunications, ports, railways, healthcare, 5G networks, GPS, etc.
China will help Iran build the entire modern industrial system. At the same time, it will receive a heavily discounted and long-term stable supply of Iranian oil. The Sino-Iranian partnership will lay the foundations for a proposed new world order, with great respect for Eastern values, not based on some failed, decadent and increasingly radicalising principles.
Faced with the value restraint and the pressure of sanctions from the United States and Europe, China is seeking to unite the European third Rome, Indo-European Iran, the second Rome and the five Central Asian countries to create a powerful geoeconomic counterpart in the hinterland of Eurasia.
The stages and choices of energy production from hydrogen
There are three main ways to use hydrogen energy:
1) internal combustion;
2) conversion to electricity using a fuel cell;
3) nuclear fusion.
The basic principle of a hydrogen internal combustion engine is the same as that of a gasoline or diesel internal combustion engine. The hydrogen internal combustion engine is a slightly modified version of the traditional gasoline internal combustion engine. Hydrogen internal combustion burns hydrogen directly without using other fuels or producing exhaust water vapour.
Hydrogen internal combustion engines do not require any expensive special environment or catalysts to fully do the job – hence there are no problems of excessive costs. Many successfully developed hydrogen internal combustion engines are hybrid, meaning they can use liquid hydrogen or gasoline as fuel.
The hydrogen internal combustion engine thus becomes a good transition product. For example, if you cannot reach your destination after refuelling, but you find a hydrogen refuelling station, you can use hydrogen as fuel. Or you can use liquid hydrogen first and then a regular refuelling station. Therefore, people will not be afraid of using hydrogen-powered vehicles when hydrogen refuelling stations are not yet widespread.
The hydrogen internal combustion engine has a small ignition energy; it is easy to achieve combustion – hence better fuel saving can be achieved under wider working conditions.
The application of hydrogen energy is mainly achieved through fuel cells. The safest and most efficient way to use it is to convert hydrogen energy into electricity through such cells.
The basic principle of hydrogen fuel cell power generation is the reverse reaction of electrolysis of water, hydrogen and oxygen supplied to the cathode and anode, respectively. The hydrogen spreading – after the electrolyte reaction – makes the emitted electrons reach the anode through the cathode by means of an external load.
The main difference between the hydrogen fuel cell and the ordinary battery is that the latter is an energy storage device that stores electrical energy and releases it when needed, while the hydrogen fuel cell is strictly a power generation device, like a power plant.
The same as an electrochemical power generation device that directly converts chemical energy into electrical energy. The use of hydrogen fuel cell to generate electricity, directly converts the combustion chemical energy into electrical energy without combustion.
The energy conversion rate can reach 60% to 80% and has a low pollution rate. The device can be large or small, and it is very flexible. Basically, hydrogen combustion batteries work differently from internal combustion engines: hydrogen combustion batteries generate electricity through chemical reactions to propel cars, while internal combustion engines use heat to drive cars.
Because the fuel cell vehicle does not entail combustion in the process, there is no mechanical loss or corrosion. The electricity generated by the hydrogen combustion battery can be used directly to drive the four wheels of the vehicle, thus leaving out the mechanical transmission device.
The countries that are developing research are aware that the hydrogen combustion engine battery will put an end to pollution. Technology research and development have already successfully produced hydrogen cell vehicles: the cutting-edge car-prucing industries include GM, Ford, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and other major international companies.
In the case of nuclear fusion, the combination of hydrogen nuclei (deuterium and tritium) into heavier nuclei (helium) releases huge amounts of energy.
Thermonuclear reactions, or radical changes in atomic nuclei, are currently very promising new energy sources. The hydrogen nuclei involved in the nuclear reaction, such as hydrogen, deuterium, fluorine, lithium, iridium (obtained particularly from meteorites fallen on our planet), etc., obtain the necessary kinetic energy from thermal motion and cause the fusion reaction.
The thermonuclear reaction itself behind the hydrogen bomb explosion, which can produce a large amount of heat in an instant, cannot yet be used for peaceful purposes. Under specific conditions, however, the thermonuclear reaction can achieve a controlled thermonuclear reaction. This is an important aspect for experimental research. The controlled thermonuclear reaction is based on the fusion reactor. Once a fusion reactor is successful, it can provide mankind with the cleanest and most inexhaustible source of energy.
The feasibility of a larger controlled nuclear fusion reactor is tokamak. Tokamak is a toroidal-shaped device that uses a powerful magnetic field to confine plasma. Tokamak is one of several types of magnetic confinement devices developed to produce controlled thermonuclear fusion energy. As of 2021, it is the leading candidate for a fusion reactor.
The name tokamak comes from Russian (toroidal’naja kamera s magnitnymi katuškami: toroidal chamber with magnetic coils). Its magnetic configuration is the result of research conducted in 1950 by Soviet scientists Andrei Dmitrievič Sakharov (1921-1989) and Igor’ Evgen’evič Tamm (1895-1971), although the name dates back more precisely to 1957.
At the centre of tokamak there is a ring-shaped vacuum chamber with coils wound outside. When energized, a huge spiral magnetic field is generated inside the tokamak, which heats the plasma inside to a very high temperature, which achieves the purpose of nuclear fusion.
Energy, resources and environmental problems urgently need hydrogen energy to solve the environmental crisis, but the preparation of hydrogen energy is not yet mature, and most of the research on hydrogen storage materials is still in the exploratory laboratory stage. Hydrogen energy production should also focus on the “biological” production of hydrogen.
Other methods of hydrogen production are unsustainable and do not meet scientific development requirements. Within biological production, microbial production requires an organic combination of genetic engineering and chemical engineering so that existing technology can be fully used to develop hydrogen-producing organisms that meet requirements as soon as possible. Hydrogen production from biomass requires continuous improvement and a vigorous promotion of technology. It is a difficult process.
Hydrogen storage focused on the discovery of new aspects of materials or their preparation is not yet at large-scale industrial level. Considering different hydrogen storage mechanisms, and the material to be used, also needs further study.
Furthermore, each hydrogen storage material has its own advantages and disadvantages, and most storage material properties have the characteristics that relate to adductivity and properties of a single, more commonly known material.
It is therefore believed that efforts should be focused on the development of a composite hydrogen storage material, which integrates the storage advantages of multiple individual materials, along the lines of greater future efforts.
The advantages of hydrogen and Israel’s warnings
Hydrogen is the most common element in nature. It is estimated to make up 75% of the mass of the universe. Except for that contained in air, it is primarily stored in water in the form of a compound, and water is the most widely distributed substance on earth.
Hydrogen has the best thermal conductivity of all gases – i.e. ten times higher than most of them – and it is therefore an excellent heat transfer carrier in the energy industry.
Hydrogen has good combustion performance, rapid ignition, and has a wide fuel range when mixed with air. It has a high ignition point and rapid combustion rate.
Except for nuclear fuels, the calorific value of hydrogen is the highest among all fossil and chemical fuels, as well as biofuels, reaching 142.35 kJ/kg. The calorie per kilogram of hydrogen burned is about three times that of gasoline and 3.9 times that of alcohol, as well as 4.5 times that of coke.
Hydrogen has the lightest weight of all elements. It can appear as gas, liquid, or solid metal hydride, which can adapt to different storage and transport needs and to various application environments.
Burning hydrogen is cleaner than other fuels – besides generating small amounts of water – and does not produce hydrogen azide as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide (harmful to the environment), hydrocarbons, lead compounds and dust particles, etc. A small amount of hydrogen nitride will not pollute the environment after proper treatment, and the water produced by combustion can continue to produce hydrogen and be reused repeatedly.
Extensive use practices show that hydrogen has a record of safe use. There were 145 hydrogen-related accidents in the United States between 1967 and 1977, all of which occurred in petroleum refining, the chlor-alkali industry, or nuclear power plants, and did not really involve energy applications.
Experience in the use of hydrogen shows that common hydrogen accidents can be summarized as follows: undetected leaks; safety valve failure; emptying system failure; broken pipes, tubes or containers; property damage; poor replacement; air or oxygen and other impurities left in the system; too high hydrogen discharge rate; possible damage of pipe and tube joints or bellows; accidents or tipping possibly occurring during the hydrogen transmission process.
These accidents require two additional conditions to cause a fire: one is the source of the fire and the other is the fact that the mixture of hydrogen and air or oxygen must be within the limits of the possibility of fires or violent earthquakes in the local area.
Under these two conditions, an accident cannot be caused if proper safety measures are established. In fact, with rigorous management and careful implementation of operating procedures, most accidents do not theoretically occur.
The development of hydrogen energy is triggering a profound energy revolution and could become the main source of energy in the 21st century.
The United States, Europe, Japan, and other developed countries have formulated long-term hydrogen energy development strategies from the perspective of national sustainable development and security strategies.
Israel, however, makes warning and calls for caution.
While the use of hydrogen allows for the widespread penetration of renewable energy, particularly solar and wind energy – which, due to storage difficulties, are less available than demand – Israeli experts say that, despite its many advantages, there are also disadvantages and barriers to integrating green hydrogen into industry, including high production costs and high upfront investment in infrastructure.
According to the Samuel Neaman Institute’s Energy Forum report (April 11, 2021; authors Professors Gershon Grossman and Naama Shapira), Israel is 7-10 years behind the world in producing energy from clean hydrogen.
Prof. Gideon Friedman, actingchief scientist and Director of Research and Development at the Ministry of Energy, explains why: “Israel has a small industry that is responsible for only 10% of greenhouse gas emissions – unlike the world where they are usually 20% – and therefore the problems of emissions in industry are a little less acute in the country.”
At a forum held prior to the report’s presentation, senior officials and energy experts highlighted the problematic nature of integrating clean hydrogen into industry in Israel.
Dr. Yossi Shavit, Head of the cyber unit in industry at the Ministry of Environmental Protection, outlined the risks inherent in hydrogen production, maintenance and transportation, including the fact that it is a colourless and odourless gas that makes it difficult to detect a leak. According to Dr. Shavit, hydrogen is a hazardous substance that has even been defined as such in a new regulation on cyber issues published in 2020.
Dr. Shlomo Wald, former chief scientist at the Ministry of Infrastructure, argued that in the future hydrogen would be used mainly for transportation, along with electricity.
Prof. Lior Elbaz of Bar-Ilan University said that one of the most important things is the lack of laws: “There is no specific regulation for hydrogen in Israel, but it is considered a dangerous substance. In order for hydrogen to be used for storage and transportation, there needs to be a serious set of laws that constitute a bottleneck in our learning curve.” “Israel has something to offer in innovation in the field, but government support will still be needed in this regard – as done in all countries – and approximately a trillion dollars in the field of hydrogen is expected to be invested in the next decade.”
Although the discussion was mainly about Israel’s delay in integrating clean hydrogen into the industry, it has emerged that Sonol (Israel’s fuel supplier ranking third in the country’s gas station chain) is leading a project, together with the Ministry of Transport, to establish Israel’s first hydrogen refuelling station. “We believe there will be hydrogen transportation in Israel for trucks and buses,” said Dr. Amichai Baram, Vice President of operations at Sonol. “Hydrogen-powered vehicles for the country – albeit not really cheap in the initial phase – and regulations promoted in the field, both for gas stations and vehicles.”
Renewables account for only 6% of Israel’s energy sources and, according to the latest plans published by the Ministry of Energy and adopted by the government, the target for 2030 is 30%.
This is an ambitious goal compared to reality, and also far from the goal of the rest of the countries in the world that aim at energy reset by 2050.
The authors of the aforementioned report emphasize that fully using the clean hydrogen potential is key to achieving a higher growth target for Israel.
According to recommendations, the State should critically examine the issue in accordance with Israel’s unique conditions and formulate a strategy for the optimal integration of hydrogen into the energy economy.
Furthermore, it must support implementation, both through appropriate regulations and through the promotion of cooperation with other countries and global companies, as well as through investment in infrastructure, and in research and development, industry and in collaboration with the academic world.
There are countries in Europe or the Middle East that have already started green energy production projects, and finally it was recommended to work to develop Israeli innovations in the field, in collaboration with the Innovation Authority and the Ministry of Energy.
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