The rise of hydrogen energy in the Philippines

Zamboanga Sibugay will be the site of the first green hydrogen power plant in Southeast Asia—an ambitious project that aims to solve the province’s energy crisis.

Biofuel, renewable energy, and nuclear power—these are just some of the technologies that are on the table as the Philippines ponders how to clean up its electric grid.

The country’s attempts at decarbonization have even led to research and investments that have gone beyond the energy sector. Apart from constructing power plants, electric vehicles have started flooding the market as well. 

Despite these options, the country still has a long way to go before moving away from fossil fuels. Until now, these alternative sources of energy have had their own drawbacks. Solar and wind energy depend on weather conditions, while hydroelectricity might be promising but is reliant on location. In response to this problem, the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) offers another potential solution: hydrogen energy.

The first of its kind

In January 2023, MinDA organized an energy roadshow to accelerate the development of Renewstable, a green hydrogen power plant in Olutanga, Zamboanga Sibugay. The plant, looked to be the first of its kind in the Philippines and Southeast Asia, is still four years away from being fully operational. Slapped with a P3-billion project cost, the power plant will be constructed by Hydrogene De France (HDF) Energy, a company that envisions a future where hydrogen is used to complement renewable energy sources.

The Renewstable power plant will generate electricity by using renewables to split water molecules.

Unlike traditional diesel-fueled power plants, Renewstable uses a combination of solar power, water, and hydrogen energy to produce stable electricity. Together, it aims to lower energy costs, maintain grid stability, and help the Zamboanga Peninsula become energy-independent.

Mathieu Geze, the director of HDF Energy Asia, believes that hydrogen can address the limitations of renewable energy. “We see that hydrogen has a unique added value to bring in sectors where electrification in the conventional way is difficult,” he explains. Even in other industries such as steel, hydrogen can be used to “decarbonize the gas pipeline” and improve its production process. For the residents of Olutanga, hydrogen may even be cheaper than coal and natural gas, which often have to be transported to the island.

Playing with water

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, fueling stars across the galaxy and forming Earth’s atmosphere and bodies of water. In theory, utilizing hydrogen to generate electricity is quite simple. The most common method is steam reforming, which uses steam and methane to create hydrogen and carbon monoxide, a harmful by-product.

The Renewstable power plant aims to eliminate any harmful by-products by breaking water apart into hydrogen and oxygen through an electrolyzer. According to Geze, this device sends electricity to cathode and anode rods, which in turn separates the water molecules. The electricity fueling this process would come from renewable energy sources. The solar power and wind power would work by the day, and come night, the now energized electrolyzers can create hydrogen.

Following the disassembly of the water molecule, the hydrogen is extracted and stored as a gas or liquid. When it is used for energy, it will be inserted into a fuel cell containing an external circuit. The hydrogen is then further split into its elementary particles before its electrons are forced upon the circuit to generate electricity.

‘A role to play’

While the production of hydrogen might seem complicated, it is effective. Outside of the Philippines, there are a plethora of initiatives and concrete implementations at work. Both Australia and Japan have been recently working on new ways to store liquid hydrogen. HDF Energy also plans to build hydrogen power plants in Zimbabwe, Greece, and Mexico. 

These technologies have allowed people to seamlessly combine the strengths of various clean sources of energy. Moreover, water is the only by-product if hydrogen energy is made through an electrolyzer. Other clean sources of energy cannot say the same. Nuclear energy, for instance, results in radioactive wastes. Still, like with many renewable energy sources, factors such as costs, logistics, and storage may limit the use of the resource.

Because of its vast potential as a fuel, there are also questions about the advantages and disadvantages of using hydrogen energy. However, Geze disagrees with this kind of thinking. “They (the public) could imply that it’s a pros and cons discussion on every application, while most of the time it’s just a question of context.” 

Instead of debating its merits and shortcomings, Geze argues that people should “assess whether hydrogen has a role to play” in certain industries. If hydrogen can fill in the gaps, then it should be used. He cites the heavy mobility industry as an example. Decarbonizing it solely with electric vehicles is “complicated.” Hydrogen vehicles—an initiative that nations like Japan have betted on—have a potential role here. 

Fuel of the future?

Although the Philippines is the first Southeast Asian country to have a Renewstable power plant, it is too early to say if it will be a leader in hydrogen production. Nevertheless, hydrogen has the potential to improve the country’s energy security. “[The] Philippines doesn’t necessarily need international institutions…what is needed is good coordination among the local stakeholders,” says Geze. These stakeholders include private companies, the government, and regular citizens. Together, they can develop strategies to expand the market for hydrogen energy.

For hydrogen to contribute to the Philippines’ energy transition, a scale-up over the next decade is critical. Moreover, approving more projects like the Renewstable power plant can show the viability of hydrogen energy and act as an example for other areas.  Geze also highlights, “In general, we need governments that are flexible on innovation. It’s good if they look at the hydrogen roadmap and dedicated regulation to develop such a sector.”

This article was published in The LaSallian‘s Vanguard 2024 special. To read more, visit

Joseph Razon

By Joseph Razon

Eiji Sunagawa

By Eiji Sunagawa

Leave a Reply