Tajikistan will push to produce one million tonnes of green hydrogen by 2040, drawing on vast hydropower potential in a bid to reduce oil imports, the nation’s minister of energy and water resources Daler Juma told news agency Reuters this week.

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“We are fully dependent on oil product imports... and are developing a road map for producing green hydrogen,” he said.

Juma also floated a target of 500,000 tonnes of renewable H2 production by 2030, the same year 10GW of renewable energy is set to be installed in total, and ambitions to export 75% of these volumes to neighbouring Central Asian countries.

But these targets and export plans have been called into question by some analysts.

“I consider the estimate of [one million tonnes per annum] by 2040 to be unrealistic,” Yury Melnikov, an analyst and lead author of a report on Central Asia’s hydrogen potential for the UN Economic Commission for Europe, told Hydrogen Insight.

His report estimated that the maximum potential for Tajikistan’s renewable hydrogen production is actually five times lower, at 204,000 tonnes per year. And this is only if there is a 30% increase in hydropower and solar generation, along with major infrastructure upgrades at hydroelectric dams—particularly given these already struggle with seasonal electricity shortages.

If there is no rollout of solar nor infrastructure improvement, with hydrogen being produced from no-operation water discharges during the summer months (when water flow into hydro plants exceeds demand), the report calculated that Tajikistan would only be able to produce 9,000 tonnes a year of H2.

“The scenario of 75% of hydrogen exports to neighboring countries also appears unrealistic because only Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan (unique among other Central Asian countries) are seriously considering the development of a hydrogen economy, and both countries plan for hydrogen exports rather than imports,” Melnikov added.

Tajikistan may have put its neighbours forward as a prospect for exports simply due to a lack of other clear import markets.

The country’s export prospects to Europe are limited by a lack of access to open sea and relatively large distances from EU member states, with a hypothetical overland pipeline between the capital of Dushanbe to the nearest EU capital Sofia in Bulgaria having to cross through Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Turkey. Some of its Central Asian neighbours—such as Azerbaijan—are closer and already have existing gas pipeline connections with the EU.

Tajikistan does share a land border with China, with only around 1,700km between Dushanbe to Urumqi (the largest industrial center in Xinjiang).

But China has no public plans to import hydrogen, rather developing massive green H2 projects within its own borders to decarbonise its existing use of the molecule.

“An initial focus on hydrogen exports is a natural stage that policymakers worldwide typically go through. As the national strategy is further developed, priorities are likely to change significantly,” Melnikov said.

When it comes to reducing oil imports for transport fuel, Tajikistan has already waived taxes and import duties on imported electric cars, with the government putting the number of battery-electric cars on the road at 1,600 as of this year.

However, hydrogen has often been touted as a better way to power zero-emission heavy-duty vehicles, given fuel cells tend to be lighter than batteries and provide a longer range — although this also depends on there being sufficient, affordable supply and refuelling infrastructure.