Desalination market key to enabling green hydrogen projects


Green hydrogen projects risk staying dry, unless a parallel desalination market is put in place to provide fresh water, according to analysis.

On 17 September, Rystad Energy warned that a majority of the pipeline for green hydrogen projects – 206GW in installed electrolyser capacity is targeted for 2040 – are in areas where water is in short supply. This means an additional desalination market, producing most of the 620mn cubic meters of water these projects will require, is needed.

Over 70% of hydrogen electrolyser projects are set to be located in water-stressed areas, meaning close to 85% of the hydrogen capacity earmarked for 2040 faces having to potentially source water supply through desalination. To ensure the hydrogen produced is green, additional renewable energy capacity could be needed for the desalination process as well, considering just 1% of global desalination projects are currently renewably powered.

Four of the five regions by planned green hydrogen capacity – Australia, Central Asia, West Africa, and the Middle East – have medium or higher water-stress levels. There are also several hydrogen electrolyser projects in countries outside of these regions that also face high levels of water stress, such as Spain and Chile, which have a collective 42 planned.

Overall, Rystad’s analysis found 14 green electrolyser projects planned in countries with extremely high levels of water stress, 53 in countries with high water stress and 162 in regions with medium to high levels of water stress. Those in high to extremely high water-stressed countries will almost certainly require desalination for their water supply, equating to a potential demand of 125.7mn cubic meters of water annually for desalination by 2040.

Furthermore, if all hydrogen projects in regions with water stress levels above medium are realised, demand for desalination could grow fivefold, reaching 526mn cubic meters by 2040. It noted the UN is expecting freshwater demand to increase globally by 60% by 2025 for agriculture alone, meaning regions with water stress levels exceeding medium will likely need to develop additional desalination capacity to support green hydrogen facilities. 

Some projects in regions of low water stress are located near shore and could take offshore wind as feedstock. Should they add sweater desalination, the total desalinated water demand for green hydrogen could rise as high as 620mn cubic meters by 2040.