Europe takes steps toward developing hydrogen pipeline network
Europe is taking tentative steps toward developing a hydrogen pipeline network, essential if the gas is to play a role in decarbonizing energy-intensive industries that cannot electrify.
German energy firm RWE and Norwegian oil and gas producer Equinor signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in January to develop large-scale energy value chains between Germany and Norway which include renewable generation, hydrogen, and natural gas.
The companies are planning the construction of new combined-cycle gas turbines (CCGTs) in Germany and blue hydrogen production facilities in Norway, the implementation of hydrogen pipelines between the two countries, and development of offshore wind farms for green hydrogen production.
The MoU is the latest step for Europe’s energy transition which has seen its energy import makeup disrupted after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Germany has been especially hard hit.
At the beginning of 2022, Germany imported much of its natural gas from Russia (35%), followed by Norway (27%) and The Netherlands (13%).
By the end of the year, this had changed to Norway (43%), followed by the Netherlands (29%), then Belgium (22%), according to figures by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.
Part of the change, beyond Russian restrictions, was due to a drop in demand for imported gas, mild weather, voluntary reduction and replacement of gas consumption, and electrification of certain activities, such as the installation of heat pumps in homes, the institute said.
By September, German natural gas imports had fallen to an average of 88,159 GWh/month from a peak of 158,173 GWh/month in April.
From black to blue
The Norway-Germany plan is to first replace coal with natural gas from Equinor, then develop large-scale blue hydrogen production, where hydrogen is produced from natural gas and the resulting CO2 is removed via carbon sequestration and storage (CSS).
The companies aim to set up a natural gas and blue hydrogen network by the end of the decade, with around 3GW of hydrogen-ready gas-fired power plants, and at the same time build out infrastructure for green hydrogen, with 2GW electrolysis capacity, RWE says.
Germany is already the European Union’s largest consumer of hydrogen as a feedstock for its industrial base, with demand at about 1.7 million tons, or 22% of the EU total.
RWE is keen to show it is dedicated and sufficiently experienced to turn black and grey hydrogen (from fossil fuels) to blue (natural gas) to green (low carbon sources).
“RWE has all the options under one roof: from green electricity production and the know-how to produce and store green hydrogen, to energy trading, which can provide the fuel to industrial customers as needed. RWE is already active in over 30 hydrogen projects with strong partners,” says RWE Head of Media Relations Matthias Beigel.
The utility is working with turbine manufacturer Kawasaki to build a hydrogen-powered gas turbine in Lingen, Germany that could be operational by next year.
“The project is one of the first worldwide to use a gas turbine to convert 100% hydrogen into electricity on an industrial scale,” says Beigel.
The first step will be to ramp up the production of hydrogen derived from natural gas, and Equinor aims to produce up to 2 GW of blue hydrogen capacity in Norway by 2030 and up to 10 GW by 2038.
“One important fundament in the agreement between RWE and Equinor is our natural gas production on the Norwegian continental shelf. Given our natural gas resources the potential for hydrogen production is large,” says Spokesperson of Renewables, marketing, and midstream for Equinor Magnus Frantzen Eidsvold.
“We believe that hydrogen and CCS will be important components of the energy transition journey towards 2050.”
The gas produced to feed RWE’s hydrogen-ready gas-powered plants will need to be moved from Norway to Germany, and Gassco is conducting a feasibility study, expected to be completed by the spring, for a hydrogen pipeline between the two countries.
The company is currently planning on moving an estimated 4 million tons of hydrogen a year, or an equivalent capacity of about 18 GW, depending on the purity of the hydrogen, says Gassco Spokesman Pal Rasmussen.
A number of possibilities are on the table.
“In the ongoing feasibility study, Gassco will look at several technical solutions for transporting low-carbon hydrogen, which includes blending of hydrogen in today's gas pipelines, complete conversion of a current gas pipeline, and a possible new pipeline,” says Rasmussen.
The decision is still to be made on whether to retrofit an existing natural gas pipeline – a pure hydrogen pipeline would need to address the peculiarities of the gas which can cause embrittlement of steel components and is leaky compared to methane – or to build a new pipeline.
“The studies we have carried out so far show that the pipeline network can be used to transport hydrogen. However, hydrogen will lead to changed operating conditions (pressure, capacity, etc.) in the pipeline network, and additional studies are needed,” he says.
“All options will require a qualification/requalification from a classification society in terms of technical and safety issues, and studies is this area are ongoing. Should an existing pipeline be recommended modifications will be required.”
RWE, Equinor plans for hydrogen pipelines
(Click to enlarge)
Source: RWE, Equinor
From blue to green
As a hydrogen network is built up, the MoU aims to transition to hydrogen from renewable sources, or green hydrogen.
This will require a massive infrastructure build out on both sides of the German-Norway border.
An electrolyzer plant with an installed capacity of 26.5 GW, running on 100% utilization, will consume 232 TWh/year and produce 4 million tons of hydrogen, or some 58 kWh per kilo of hydrogen, calculations by consultancy Greenstat show.
By comparison, the entire United Kingdom consumed 295 TWh of electricity in 2020, according to government data.
The 2021 AquaSector project – agreed on by a declaration of intent signed by RWE, Shell, Gasunie, and Equinor – will also help turn blue hydrogen to green, say the companies.
The AquaSector project aims to build a large-scale German offshore hydrogen park by installing approximately 300 MW electrolyzer capacity to produce up to 20,000 tons of green hydrogen per year.
The companies plan to move the green hydrogen via a pipeline, AquaDuctus, to the small German archipelago Heligoland as of 2028.
The project is considered ‘proof of concept’ for the longer-term vision to produce up to 10 GW of green hydrogen offshore by 2035 and piping it to mainland Germany, the companies said in a statement.
By Paul Day