Clean hydrogen needs its own infrastructure

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The European Hydrogen Strategy sets clear and ambitious targets. It puts clean hydrogen technologies in the centre of EU’s efforts to make the European Green Deal not only a success in terms of economic development but also to contribute massively to the Paris agreement targets. To achieve climate neutrality by 2050, the EU needs clean hydrogen. Besides its role as a key bridging solution between the electricity and gas sectors; clean hydrogen is set to play a systemic role in the transition to renewable sources by providing a mechanism to flexibly transfer energy across sectors, time and place. However, we need to understand that clean hydrogen has to be produced and then transported affordably. Infrastructure is the backbone of our energy system; we need to ensure that EU infrastructure policy is aligned with the EU Green Deal and creates an enabling framework for hydrogen infrastructure.

The upcoming revision of the regulation on TEN-E (Trans-European Networks for Energy) provides an opportunity to future-proof our energy system, paving the way towards a pan-European hydrogen market whilst solidifying the EU’s role as a world leader in clean hydrogen developments. Existing natural gas infrastructure can be repurposed to transport and store pure hydrogen. Smartly combined with renewable electricity, re-purposing existing gas infrastructure to transport clean hydrogen brings significant societal savings for the energy transition of around €200 billion annually, on the road to 2050. Consequently, this reduces the need for investments in new energy infrastructure.

Let’s take the example of transport: To achieve the objective of decarbonising transport by 90% in 2050, clean hydrogen will have an important role to play in the heavy-duty segment. As a fuel, it provides a zero-emission solution for lorries and trucks but also for the maritime and aviation sectors. In this regard, it is imperative to create more synergies between the TEN-E and TEN-T (Trans-European Networks for Transport) regulations. We have currently presented a very concrete example where the TEN-T Corridor Scan-Med, connecting the motorways from Sicily to Norway could be connected with the parallel pipeline system. If dedicated for pure hydrogen more some 200 hydrogen refuelling stations could support the decarbonisation of heavy-duty and long haul. With less than 10,000 vehicles the CO2-emission targets of the segment of trucks could be achieved by 50 percent.

Another example would be the decarbonisation of industry: Clean hydrogen has an important role to play in implementing the European Industrial Strategy. Clean hydrogen can be used as an industrial feedstock or for high-temperature heat in energy-intensive industrial processes. Thus, it can contribute to the decarbonisation of a number of strategic European industries usually grouped into industrial clusters e.g. refining, petrochemicals, steel and cement-to-gas facilities can be directly connected to offshore renewable power installations to produce clean hydrogen. Offshore gas pipelines can be utilised to transport it to demand hubs far away from production. Hydrogen transport via pipeline is also a cost-effective solution for transporting energy over large distances. Offshore platforms can also be used as hydrogen hubs at sea to supply hydrogen to ships in transit.

But is this feasible? A group of 11 European gas infrastructure companies (Enagás, Energinet, Fluxys, Gasunie, GRTgaz, NET4GAS, OGE, ONTRAS, Snam, Swedegas and Teréga) have developed the prospect of a European Hydrogen Backbone. The network could cover 23,000 km of pipelines by 2040 based on 75% repurposed existing pipelines and 25% new pipelines. The network can be created in a cost-effective way with levelized cost of hydrogen transport estimated to be between €0.09 and €0.17 per kg of hydrogen for transport over a distance of 1,000 km.

Yet, in order to implement this endeavor we need to introduce a holistic approach to Ten-Year Network Develop Planning (TYNDP process) between electricity, gases and clean hydrogen to optimise investment efforts required for the transformation of the energy system. We need to simplify the PCI (Projects of Common Interest) selection processes that reflect the ambitions of the EU Green Deal and incorporate a sustainability dimension in the PCI selection based on GHG emissions reduction potential to be applied in a non-discriminate manner.

Most importantly, we need to introduce “Clean hydrogen networks” as a new thematic area under the TEN-E Regulation. Both new infrastructure projects, as well as hydrogen transport (including pipelines, maritime, road and other) solutions, intermediate storage and associated infrastructure projects, should be encompassed in the framework of TEN-E. This should also include new innovative projects such as power-to-gas, offshore wind combined with electrolysers and hydrogen pipelines; large-scale hydrogen storage, and decarbonisation of ports and LNG terminals to import clean hydrogen and its derivatives.

The first step and so to say the low hanging fruit would be to support the interlinkage of hydrogen clusters, particularly projects of cross border nature, paving the way for the development of an EU hydrogen backbone. We, therefore, should consider a revision of the regional TEN-E Groups to include clusters of Member States ready to form regional hydrogen backbones. This includes also the introduction of provisions that favour the repurposing of existing gas infrastructure (incl. LNG & storage facilities) to transport and store pure hydrogen as well as the development of new dedicated hydrogen infrastructure and support the retrofitting of gas infrastructure to accommodate blends.

When it comes to the updated regulation “hydrogen” needs to be integrated as a new energy infrastructure category in annex 2 alongside electricity, gas, oil and carbon dioxide. A new hydrogen paragraph should include, among others dedicated hydrogen pipelines, repurposed natural gas pipelines for the transportation of pure hydrogen. At the same time reception, storage and regasification (when applicable) or decompression facilities for liquid hydrogen or dehydrogenation of hydrogen carriers or hydrogen-based fuels should be added in order to support the import hydrogen into the EU.

We should also think of conversion parks and required infrastructure in ports where electrolysers convert renewable energy into green hydrogen for the supply of industrial plants and facilities to use the “waste streams”, heat and oxygen power-to-gas facilities for the conversion of electricity to hydrogen and if applicable further to synthetic gas in so far as they perform network-related functions.

Finally, any equipment or installation essential for the system in question should be considered to operate properly, securely and efficiently,  including protection, monitoring and control systems as well as installations enabling bi-directional capacity such as compressor stations.

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