Hopes for hydrogen could not be higher

The Saharan country of Mauritania has not been on many people’s list of future industrial giants.

The Saharan country of Mauritania has not been on many people’s list of future industrial giants. 

Vital stats: Only about 30,000 Mauritanians work in industry, while 90,000 remain enslaved to this day.

  • Number of universities: Four

  • Number of coups in the past 50 years: Six

And yet: Mauritania is presenting itself to investors as the vanguard of African industrialisation thanks to green hydrogen.

  • Two of the top 10 biggest hydrogen projects in the world are in Mauritania.

  • With plans for 75 Gigawatts, it would contribute almost 60% of Africa's green hydrogen and nearly 30% of its solar initiatives.

  • Power generation capacity today is a puny 380 Megawatts, of which 117 Megawatts are renewable.

Big dollars: Planned hydrogen projects in Mauritania dwarf its GDP of $10 billion.

Gentle scepticism: A new report from the Africa Solar Industry Association (AFSIA) calls the plans “ambitious” and “disproportionate”. 

The context: Mauritania has several things going for it with regards to green hydrogen. 

  • The Sahara provides at least theoretical access to the large amounts of renewable energy required, thanks to available solar irradiation. 

  • Demand for green hydrogen is rising in not-so-distant Europe, and with it investor interest.

Studying opportunity: McKinsey projects Africa needing $55 billion in green hydrogen investment by 2030 and $900 billion by 2050.

Route to market: The International Energy Agency says Mauritania has three options for benefitting from the gathering green hydrogen boom. 

  • Use hydrogen to make ammonia and export it

  • Combine it with local iron ore and export iron 

  • Export hydrogen to Europe via a pipeline to Spain 

Government approach: Mauritanian leaders appear determined. They are signing up international experts and forming strategic partnerships. 

Weather vane: If massive green industrialisation were to work in Mauritania, other laggards on the continent would be buoyed too. 

  • Yet many observers remain sceptical the country can deliver, given its almost complete lack of infrastructure, regulatory frameworks and human capital. Welcome to the gold rush.