The launch of Singapore's Green Plan 2030 (Green Plan) in February this year is likely to mark a turning point for the island state's energy sector. As Singapore looks to create a more sustainable society, it will become increasingly focused on low-carbon energy, including hydrogen. In the latest instalment of our "Energy in ASEAN" series, we consider some of the key aspects of the Green Plan, from an energy perspective, and take a look at some of the initiatives in the hydrogen sector which are currently being undertaken in Singapore.
Historically, Singapore has played a key role in the oil and gas sector. While not possessing any hydrocarbon resources of its own, Singapore has, for more than a century, been a hub for refining, storing and trading of fossil fuels and associated products, as well as a centre for oilfield services, particularly offshore rig construction. Oil and gas is expected to continue to play a key role in the future of Singapore's economy, with majors such as TotalEnergies, Shell and Exxon Mobil remaining committed (despite recent announcements of cutbacks) to their significant downstream investments in the "Red Dot". Nevertheless, major changes in Singapore's energy landscape appear to be on the horizon.
Singapore's "Green Plan"
In February this year, the Singapore government launched the Green Plan, intended to drive the country's sustainability policy over the course of the next ten years. The Green Plan has five key pillars, which can be summarized as follows1:
- City in Nature: focusing on green spaces and nature, approximately 200 hectares of land (an increase of 50 percent) will be reserved for nature parks by 2030, with one million trees intended to be planted.
- Energy Reset: Singapore will transition to using cleaner energy sources (discussed in further detail below) in order to increase energy efficiency and tackle climate change, as well as supporting the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs). Indeed, Singapore has declared its 2040 vision for the automobile sector: to phase out internal combustion vehicle engines, and by 2030 all newly registered cars must be cleaner-energy models, such as EVs, hybrid or hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles.
- Sustainable Living: focusing on ensuring that reduction of carbon emissions, maintaining a clean environment and saving resources become a way of life in Singapore. In order to achieve this, Singapore will make a push towards circularity in waste materials to "transform trash to treasure," as well as increasing recycling capabilities and reducing waste sent to landfills by 30 percent.
- Green Economy: seeking new investments that are among the best-in-class in terms of carbon or energy efficiency. The Singapore government will introduce a new "Enterprise Sustainability Programme" to help enterprises, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), embrace sustainability and develop capabilities in this area. Singapore aims to become a leading carbon trading and services hub, including green finance (in which Singapore aims to become a leading global centre), sustainability consultancy, verification, carbon credits trading and risk management.
- Resilient Future: to build up Singapore's climate resilience and enhance food security. Initiatives include the development of physical coastal defences to protect against rising sea levels and increasing local food production to meet 30 percent of Singapore's nutritional needs by 2030.2
It is clear that the "energy transition" will be a key factor in the success of the Green Plan and this is evident in the initiatives set out in the "Energy Reset" pillar. The Singapore government is committed to quadrupling its solar energy deployment by 2025, with efforts currently being undertaken to ramp up the use of solar panels on the rooftops of HDB (public housing) blocks. Sembcorp Floating Solar Singapore, a wholly owned subsidiary of Sembcorp Industries, and Singapore's National Water Agency PUB, recently announced the opening of the Sembcorp Tengeh Floating Solar Farm at the Tengeh Reservoir. With 122,000 solar panels spanning across 45 hectares (equivalent to about 45 football fields), the 60 megawatt-peak (MWp) solar photovoltaic (PV) farm is currently one of the world's largest inland floating solar PV systems.3
However, by the government's own admission,4 Singapore's geographical constraints limit its options for large-scale renewable energy projects and, consequently, Singapore will need to look at other sources, such as importing green energy from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region and beyond, with hydrogen predicted to become a key source if green energy in the future5. Earlier this year, Singapore's Energy Market Authority (EMA) took its first step in this field by announcing that it was seeking proposals to appoint an importer for a two year trial to import and sell up to 100 MW of electricity from Malaysia6. The request for proposal specifically states that electricity supplied from coal-fired generation will not be considered for inclusion in the pilot. Singapore-based solar firm Sunseap Group and Malaysia's largest electricity utility Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) announced they intended to form a joint venture to participate in the tender indicating that, if successful, the joint venture would invest in solar farms across Malaysia and utilize other forms of clean energy, such as hydro-electricity, from TNB's existing facilities.7
Singapore is not just considering hydrogen as a source of green energy. The "Green Economy" Pillar proposes to "promote home-grown innovation under the Research, Innovation & Enterprise Plan 2025, and attract companies to anchor their R&D activities in Singapore to develop new sustainability solutions for Asia and the world".8 These solutions are expected to include decarbonisation technologies, such as carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) and low-carbon (i.e., green and, potentially, blue) hydrogen.
Hydrogen and Ammonia in Singapore
So what developments have taken place in Singapore's hydrogen space since the announcement of the Green Plan? Firstly, it is important to note that, while more than 30 countries have released hydrogen road maps (according to a report by the Hydrogen Council and McKinsey & Co.9), Singapore has not yet taken the step of producing one of its own. In a speech at the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and Hydrogen Gas Markets Asia Conference in October 2020, Dr. Tan See Leng, Singapore's Second Minister for Trade and Industry and Manpower Minister, stated that Singapore had taken steps to assess the feasibility of hydrogen in reducing longer-term emissions, with a joint study on hydrogen imports and downstream applications being commissioned in 2019. The study would cover potential sources of hydrogen imports based on availability, cost, technical feasibility and supply security up to 2050. In addition, Dr. Tan highlighted that Singapore was strengthening its partnerships with international bodies and other countries to keep pace with global technological developments, and to work together on practical projects to develop hydrogen markets, supply chains and standards. However, Dr. Tan also indicated that there are three major challenges relating to hydrogen that must be overcome, namely:
- Global supply chains for hydrogen need to be established.
- Extensive infrastructure for hydrogen import, storage, transport and end-use need to be put in place.
- The current price of producing and importing hydrogen is high, making wider adoption difficult10.
These challenges are seen as the most significant barriers to the global development of hydrogen and it remains to be seen whether they can be overcome, at least in the short-term. In a more recent speech during the Chile and Singapore Low-Carbon Webinar in July 2021, Dr. Tan indicated that a key strategy for Singapore, as an "alternative energy disadvantaged country," is the adoption of low-carbon technologies, such as hydrogen. Dr. Tan went on to say that hydrogen can "serve as a versatile energy carrier to store and transport renewable energy. It can help Singapore diversify our fuel mix for power generation and reduce emissions in sectors such as shipping and aviation."11
However, the lack of a roadmap notwithstanding, Singapore is moving forward with investments in the hydrogen space. Singaporean sovereign wealth fund Temasek recently announced that it had entered into an agreement to form a US$140 million joint venture with Nanofilm Technologies (a Singapore stock exchange (SGX)-listed nanotechnologies manufacturer)12. The joint venture, known as Sydrogen Energy, is being established with the aim of leveraging Nanofilm's core technologies to "develop new components and solutions to overcome existing limitations in enabling the use of hydrogen as an energy source." Sydrogen will anchor its core research and development activities in Singapore, Nanofilm announced. Nanofilm also noted, in an SGX filing, that Sydrogen sees China as an attractive market, with government policies strongly supporting the development of a hydrogen economy starting with fuel cell EVs (please see below). The creation of Sydrogen Energy follows an earlier investment by Temasek in Danish company, Haldor Topsoe13, described as a "global leader in high-performance catalysts with a focus on electrolysis to enable a green hydrogen economy."
Singapore, housing the second busiest container port in the world and top bunkering port in 2020, is a hub for global maritime trade. It is, therefore, perhaps no coincidence that a number of Singapore's hydrogen initiatives are focused on the maritime sector. For example, the EMA and Keppel Offshore and Marine were jointly awarded a research grant to pilot Singapore's first floating Energy Storage System (ESS). This project was awarded to a consortium led by Envision Digital International Pte Ltd14. Solutions developed under this initiative are to be test-bedded on Keppel's "Floating Living Lab", the first-of-its-kind offshore floating test-bed. Wärtsilä will provide engine generating sets, which will run on a hydrogen and natural gas blend. The power generation system will operate on two Wärtsilä 34SG engines running on natural gas/LNG. The Wärtsilä engines are also capable of operating on gas with up to 3 percent hydrogen, and with modifications can utilize up to 25 percent hydrogen15.
Singapore has also, through its Maritime and Port Authority (MPA), entered into an agreement to establish a S$120 million fund for a maritime decarbonization center to be set up in Singapore, supported by funding from industry partners. The MPA has entered into a memorandum of cooperation with Sembcorp Marine, BW Group, Eastern Pacific Shipping, Ocean Network Express, Foundation Det Norske Veritas and BHP. Each individual private sector partner will contribute S$10 million to the fund, while the MPA will add a further S$60 million in research and development funding. The funds are intended to support the establishment of the decarbonization center and provide funding for maritime-decarbonization-related research and technology development projects. This center is one of nine recommendations submitted by the International Advisory Panel on Maritime Decarbonisation (IAP) to support decarbonization in the maritime industry. It should be noted that the IAP also identified ammonia-related joint projects, such as retrofitting and constructing new build vessels, to utilize ammonia and methanol as marine fuel, exploring green ammonia bunkering in Singapore and conducting joint workshops on ammonia as a marine fuel. In addition, the IAP has identified a number of potential projects to explore the utilization of hydrogen in the maritime industry.
The Ammonia Angle
In another recent development in Singapore's maritime sector, Keppel Offshore and Marine, Sumitomo and Maersk, along with Norwegian fertiliser manufacturer Yara International and Hong Kong's Fleet Management, announced that they had entered into a memorandum of understanding to jointly conduct a feasibility study with the aim of being pioneers in establishing a comprehensive and competitive supply chain for the provision of green ammonia ship-to-ship bunkering at the Port of Singapore16.
Ammonia is likely to be a key component in the future hydrogen economy, particularly in the context of transportation of hydrogen, which is, as previously highlighted, one of the key hurdles facing the sector. Conventional methods of gas transportation, such as pipelines or tankers, involve far greater expense where hydrogen is concerned. Not only that, but current technology needs to be refined and adapted (e.g., hydrogen embrittles steel pipelines, meaning that methane needs to be mixed with hydrogen if they are to be utilized) and greater cargo space on tankers will be required in order to transport equivalent volumes of hydrogen17. It is in this space that ammonia can be expected to play a major role. One method of transporting hydrogen is by way of chemical carriers, such as liquid inorganic carriers (i.e., those that lack any carbon-hydrogen bonds), such as ammonia (NH3). Cracking devices can then be used to release hydrogen from the ammonia (which is subsequently captured), as well as nitrogen. Chemical carriers are currently the least expensive mode of transportation and storage of hydrogen and ammonia and seems to be regarded as a potentially viable well-to-wheel hydrogen transportation solution.
The project announced by Keppel aims to develop a complete supply chain for the sea-based ammonia refuelling operation, from the production of ammonia and development of a specialized tanker vessel to building storage and a distribution system. The companies hope to grow the venture into a new business in Singapore, the world's largest marine refuelling hub. The group is also considering the production of ammonia without generating carbon dioxide, such as by using electricity from a renewable energy source18.
In addition to performing the role of a "hydrogen carrier" ammonia can also be used as a fuel directly in power plants and as a marine transport fuel. Several firms are developing "green" ammonia, a route to ammonia in which hydrogen derived from water electrolysis powered by alternative energy replaces hydrocarbon-based hydrogen, making ammonia production virtually carbon dioxide-free. They are also investing in CCS to minimize the carbon impact of making conventional ammonia, creating what the industry refers to as "blue" ammonia.
However, establishing an ammonia fuel industry won't be easy. By most estimates, green ammonia will cost two to four times as much to make as conventional ammonia. Moreover, some of the technologies needed to harness the molecule, such as ammonia-burning engines, are still experimental. One of the technical challenges that needs to be overcome in this area is that the space required for fuel storage is typically larger and some material selection modifications will be required in vessel construction.
In addition, port operators and fuel suppliers will need to construct vast bunkering infrastructure so ships can fill ammonia tanks wherever they dock. Similarly, significant investment will need to be made in solar, wind and other renewable-energy capacity (assuming the focus is on green ammonia) to produce enough green ammonia (itself and extremely energy intensive process) to satisfy the demands of the maritime industry. Globally, ships consume an estimated 300 million tons of marine fuels every year. Given that ammonia's energy density is half that of diesel, ammonia producers would need to provide twice as much liquid ammonia, and ships will need, as highlighted previously, to accommodate larger storage tanks, potentially eating into cargo space.
Blue ammonia might offer a quicker and cheaper route to a hydrogen economy, whether in a role as a transition fuel, or as part of the long-term energy mix. This could be especially true in North America, where the large oil and gas industry keeps the cost of producing conventional ammonia low and creates opportunities to use carbon dioxide in enhanced oil recovery (EOR) or to store the greenhouse gas permanently underground. Ultimately, governments in Asia and around the world, together with the marketplace, will have to decide if green ammonia is worth the effort.
As previously highlighted, the announcement of the launch of Singapore's Green Plan is likely to serve as a milestone in the country's energy sector. With few power resources of its own, Singapore will continue to need to look abroad for supply in order to maintain its energy security. It appears that hydrogen certainly has a role to play in Singapore's energy mix going forward and there are a stream of initiatives currently being undertaken in this space. Singapore has not yet announced a hydrogen strategy and we will be watching with interest to see whether the government determines to put one in place. We expect Singapore to continue to develop its nascent hydrogen economy while, at the same time, closely monitor developments in other, more developed hydrogen societies (such as Japan and South Korea) as these are likely to form test cases as more nations begin to take an interest in hydrogen.
In our next article we will be looking at hydrogen in the context of the wider Asia Pacific and, in addition, consider how another region, specifically the Middle East, is likely to be critical in the development of the hydrogen economy.
1. Note this represents only a high-level summary of some of the key aspects of each of the five pillars of the Green Plan and there are a number other initiatives and projects which are not captured in this article.
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