Morocco-to-X: Badr Ikken and his team at IRESEN plan to transform the country into a hub for e-Fuels

For nearly a decade, Badr Ikken, General Director of the Research Institute for Solar Energy and Renewable Energy (IRESEN), has been leading the way for the research and development of clean energy solutions in Morocco. Most recently, he and his team at IRESEN have been collaborating with European institutions and national industry partners to promote synthetic fuels and Power-to-X.

 

By Marc Engelhardt

 

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Energy Stories: Badr Ikken, last year the Fraunhofer Institute published a study on the potential of Power-to-X in Morocco, and IRESEN held a workshop on the opportunities the technology offers. What promise does Power-to-X technology hold for the future of the country?

Badr Ikken: When we started looking at Power-to-X, our initial focus was the decarbonization of raw materials for industry. One very important industry in Morocco is the production of fertilizer, made from phosphate and ammonia. While Morocco is the largest global producer of phosphates, ammonia has mostly been imported in the past – 2 million tons in the last year alone. If we instead used wind and solar energy to produce green hydrogen, which could then be transformed into carbon-free ammonia, this would be a very important step for both the climate and the economy.

 

We also see the huge potential for clean energy through Power-to-X in hydrogen, ammonia or methanol, which is why Morocco created a National Commission for Power-to-X under the aegis of the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Environment.

What is Morocco’s competitive edge when it comes to Power-to-X?

Ten years ago, Morocco decided to invest in renewables and to reach a target of 42 percent of the installed capacity generated through renewables by 2020. His Majesty the King Mohammed VI has now set a new target to reach 52 percent by 2030. We have wind power with a load factor in some regions of more than 70 percent, as well as high solar energy resources. And with time and effort, cost has decreased considerably. We’re speaking about 0.4 Moroccan dirhams (4 Euro cents) per kilowatt-hour from solar energy and 0.3 dirhams (3 Euro cents) per kilowatt-hour from wind energy – a world record – which means that the green electricity needed for Power-to-X technology is cheap. Locally we’ll be able to transform industry, create jobs and start to produce ammonia or methanol and green fuels – and we’ll have a revenue to fund our climate change strategy.

How is IRESEN advancing a Power-to-X future?

We’ve already established the Green Energy Park, a joint research platform dedicated to solar energy, investigating topics like the intermittency of renewables and its impact on electrolyzers and Power-to-X processes. And we’re currently developing a Power-to-X research platform together with partners from academia and industry (like OCP, the world’s largest producer and exporter of phosphate) due to be inaugurated later this year. Our main goals are capacity building and R&D, including on electrolyzers to produce green hydrogen as well as on the synthesis of green ammonia, green methanol and green fuels in general.

 

We’re also conducting a study to build the basis for a national Power-to-X strategy and lay the foundation for regional cooperation. And we’re working on a reference project with partners from Germany. The pilot will have capacities of 1 megawatt for each different technology, with the aim of scaling to a level of 100 megawatts. We want to continue to foster this kind of cooperation between Morocco and Europe. 

Africa today, according to the IEA, only has 5 gigawatts installed capacity of solar PV – less than 1 percent of the global total. Will Morocco’s energy strategy have an impact on the rest of Africa?

Morocco has been a front-runner in renewables. We started with hydropower, then continued with wind and solar, both for rural electrification and big power plants. It’s been important for us to develop an energy mix, to involve our universities to build capacity and to develop research and development infrastructures, as well as to develop strategies for local industrial integration. These solutions are already well adapted and might be copied in a lot of African countries.

 

In fact, IRESEN is currently finishing a research platform in the Ivory Coast that’s dedicated to solar technologies and agriculture under semitropical climate conditions. But we still have to sensitize people and politicians in many countries. Then there is cost: We need to talk about the financing part as well as new instruments like an African guarantee fund which would support private investors as well as countries. We’ll also need to increase capacity building and provide more technological support.

" We in Africa are able to produce green hydrogen, green ammonia, green methanol, and one day maybe synthetic fuels and export them to Europe. This might give birth to a new kind of partnership: a clean energy union Europe-Africa. "
Badr Ikken, General Director, IRESEN
Is Africa’s potential big enough to attract the necessary investments?

Africa has a huge renewable energy potential. Of course, there’s hydropower, but we also have a huge potential regarding solar energy. We’re speaking about more than 3,000 hours of sun every year, more than 5 kilowatt-hours per square meter per day. We have as well an amazing potential regarding wind power. And renewables will allow us to solve the problem of access: We still have more than 620 million Africans without access to electricity. Plus, their use will allow us to treat water as well, to desalinate water and to generally find a solution for the future of Africa.

How would these developments benefit Europe, Morocco’s close neighbor?

Europe and Africa are facing the same problem with regard to climate change. And I think that Africa – through its huge energy resources – would be able to contribute to the decarbonization of different sectors in Europe like electricity, industry, transportation through Power-to-X. We in Africa are able to produce green hydrogen, green ammonia, green methanol, and one day maybe synthetic fuels and export them to Europe. This might give birth to a new kind of partnership: a clean energy union Europe-Africa.

Apr 23, 2020

Marc Engelhardt is an independent journalist based in Geneva, Switzerland.

 

Combined picture credits: Marco Ricci, Getty Images / boezie, Siemens 

IRESEN, Morocco’s national Institute for Solar Energy and Renewable Energy, was founded in 2011 by the Moroccan Ministry of Energy, Mining and Environment and key players of the country’s energy sector. The institute funds collaborative R&D projects involving universities and companies in the fields of renewable energy and energy efficiency. At the same time, IRESEN builds a network of applied research infrastructures throughout Morocco. Among them are research platforms for solar energy, for energy efficiency in buildings and smart grids as well as on water energy, biomass/ biogas and Power-to-X. 

Dr. Badr Ikken received a degree in mechanical engineering and industrial production & solar systems from the Berlin Institute of Technology and wrote his doctoral thesis on production technologies of hard materials. After eight years in the Department for Machining Technology of the Institute for Machine Tools and Factory Management (IWF) in Berlin, he served as a project manager at Fraunhofer IPK. From 2008, he was the CTO of multinational corporation Lunos-Raumluftsysteme before joining the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (MASEN) as Director of Integrated Development in 2010. In 2011, inspired by the model of Germany’s Fraunhofer Society, he co-founded IRESEN and has been its Director General since. He serves as well as the vice-president of the new climate economy commission of the Moroccan Confederation of Enterprises.