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Europe’s fuel corporations prime pipelines for hydrogen freeway

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By Vera Eckert, Stephen Jewkes and Isla Binnie

– As world leaders hammered out a deal final week to gradual local weather change, fuel engineer Michele Ricciardi was digging right into a sensible downside: How hundreds of miles of pipelines throughout Italy and Europe can safely carry hydrogen.

The Italian is on the forefront of fuel carriers’ efforts to organize for a decrease carbon future: If fossil fuels are phased out in coming many years, pure fuel firms imagine that ought to not imply the infrastructure that carries them should go too. They wish to repurpose pipelines to hold zero-emissions hydrogen after international locations wean themselves off pure fuel.

The hassle by almost two dozen firms displays the accelerating tempo of planning happening within the world oil and fuel trade, from drillers to refiners, eager to adapt as governments and activists ramp up the strain to slash greenhouse gases. Moreover sensible preparation, the transition places corporations into competitors with different vitality sources for funding, at the same time as they make investments billions of euros in markets they will’t predict.

The hydrogen venture – involving Italy’s Snam SpA, Spain’s Enagas S.A. and Germany’s Open Grid Europe (ALSO) amongst others – would depend on huge photo voltaic farms as remote because the Sahara desert to create the vitality wanted to provide hydrogen from water.

That gas would then be piped to Europe’s industrial heartland alongside the prevailing net of pure fuel pipelines – a 198,500 km (123,300 mile) community that, if untangled, may encircle the equator 4 instances.

“As soon as we’ve the solar of the Sahara in German factories … that’s just like the Roman roads we’re nonetheless strolling on at present,” Ricciardi’s boss Marco Alvera, chief govt of Snam, instructed Reuters. “It’s endlessly.”

The businesses wish to kind a European Hydrogen Spine (EHB) to stop the pipelines from rusting up into what the trade calls “stranded belongings.” They calculate that some 69% of present pipelines will be transformed for as much as 81 billion euros ($94 billion).

The venture is certainly one of lots of of plans to construct a hydrogen financial system, which the European Union says may contain investments of as much as 460 billion euros by 2030.

A hydrogen provide community may add to Europe’s vitality safety: The bloc at present depends on pure fuel to satisfy 28% of its vitality wants, with a 3rd of the fuel from Russia. Politicians have just lately accused Moscow of holding again provides as fuel costs climbed to report ranges. Russia says it has crammed all its contractual necessities.

“I feel it’s an excellent thought,” Frans Timmermans, European Commissioner for Local weather Motion, instructed Reuters. Adapting present pure fuel networks to move hydrogen is about 25% of the price of constructing a brand new infrastructure for renewable vitality, he mentioned.

However the European Union is just not offering money for the enterprise – that should come from trade or nationwide governments. So it would want political and industrial assist.

To succeed, the fuel grids want to have the ability to direct hydrogen blended with pure fuel to the purchasers who can use it – like steelmakers, chemical firms and refineries. The availability must be secure, and volumes large enough for it to be inexpensive.

Finally – if inexperienced hydrogen will be supplied in big portions – the auto trade and residential heating suppliers may begin to use it. However that wouldn’t be earlier than 2030, research present.

The fuel grid firms say their most important problem now could be the actual fact Europe has no regulatory framework for them to adapt the community. “The regulation must outline hydrogen as a fuel that may be transported and used equally to pure fuel,” mentioned Maria Sicilia, technique director at Enagas. If the regulation units requirements, she mentioned, the networks will be interlinked.


Hydrogen is probably the most ample factor within the universe, largely occurring certain to oxygen in water. Nevertheless it’s additionally some of the extremely flamable. Up to now, dozens of hydrogen airships that exploded or burned, together with the Hindenburg hearth of 1937, have satisfied many who hydrogen is very dangerous.

Snam and different firms say their trade has many years of expertise, having constructed the infrastructure within the first place, so hydrogen want be no extra hazardous than different fuels used at present. If hydrogen leaks into the open air, it rises and its focus falls quickly beneath the explosive degree, in keeping with Zukunft Fuel, a German fuel foyer.

From his workplace close to Snam’s essential gas-flow room at Milan headquarters, Ricciardi and his group have for the previous three years combed little by little by means of Europe’s greatest fuel transport community to verify it might deal with the fuel. Snam has mentioned it is able to spend greater than 3 billion euros on the substitute of fuel pipelines which can be hydrogen-compliant.

“We’ve been shifting pure fuel round for the final 80 years,” says Ricciardi, whose job is to determine requirements that the trade can comply with make pipes secure. “Now we’ve received to do it with hydrogen.”

Flammability is only one downside. In comparison with pure fuel, hydrogen additionally leaks extra simply as a result of its molecules are smaller. Its stream patterns are completely different, and it even assaults some grades of metal, making them brittle.

The modifications wanted will differ by fuel grid, however firms should look at pipes meticulously to verify the metal is sound and the seals hermetic. Compressor stations alongside the best way might should be tailored, and installations shall be fitted with sensors to trace leaks after which vent and divert them.

The oil and different industries already use hydrogen as a feedstock – Germany’s provide quantities to the equal of a few tenth of its energy utilization, largely in metal and chemical substances. However that fuel is made utilizing fossil fuels and is called “gray” hydrogen [nL4N2S72U5].

The pipeline community already contains 4 traces connecting Algeria, Morocco, Libya and Tunisia with Spain and Italy.

“The issue now after all is that it’s full of pure fuel,” mentioned Advert van Wijk, a professor of future vitality methods at Delft Technical College. However “the spine is already in place,” he mentioned. He advocates linking up Europe and Africa to run Europe’s vitality system on 50% renewable vitality and 50% inexperienced hydrogen.

Price is one other concern. Up to now, “inexperienced” hydrogen has been produced largely for experimental tasks. It prices 4 to 5 instances greater than the gray selection to provide.

To chop that, the trade and customers have to scale up manufacturing and demand.

Snam’s Alvera says photo voltaic panels in southern Spain, the Sahara and components of the Center East can present low cost renewable electrical energy to energy electrolysis crops which pump hydrogen into the repurposed pipes. Spain is already one of many most cost-effective websites in Europe to provide renewable electrical energy, in keeping with trade affiliation Photo voltaic Energy Europe, and prices are projected to fall.

In the meantime, the businesses say they will additionally carry fuel produced from fossil fuels however with the ensuing emissions captured – generally known as “blue” hydrogen.

Thomas Deser, a senior portfolio supervisor at big German fund Union Funding, is sceptical. He believes that “earlier than the center of the last decade, with out subsidies, you can’t make any cash from producing inexperienced hydrogen.”


The hydrogen spine is now in competitors for state cash. Germany is Europe’s greatest vitality client. Berlin has pledged 9 billion euros as much as 2030 to develop a inexperienced hydrogen trade, two billion of it earmarked to spice up imports from accomplice international locations comparable to Morocco, Chile, Saudi Arabia and Australia.

However electrical energy is one other fast-growing supply of comparatively clear energy, and Germany’s electrical energy transmission community can be in rising demand. Germany plans to spend 1 billion euros by 2025 on electrical automobile charging infrastructure, plus lots of of tens of millions extra on buying premiums and tax breaks.

The nation is residence to the world’s greatest carmaker by quantity, Wolfsburg-based Volkswagen AG. Whereas automotive corporations are growing hydrogen fuel-cell prototypes alongside battery automobiles, Europe’s automakers don’t see hydrogen as their first selection of energy.

VW has already dedicated billions of euros to battery-based electrical automobile know-how. It instructed Reuters it believes modifications in powering mobility should happen in massive volumes. Herbert Diess, VW’s CEO, tweeted in Could that “the hydrogen automotive is confirmed to NOT be the climate-friendly answer,” saying “electrification has established itself in visitors.”

Nonetheless, new demand for hydrogen is rising: Globally, 359 large-scale tasks had been introduced by July 2021, in keeping with the Hydrogen Council and consultants McKinsey, which mentioned 80% of latest initiatives had been in Europe.

Snam says it has efficiently examined a mixture of pure fuel and 30% hydrogen to fireside furnaces at an Italian metal firm.

In Milan, Ricciardi says ramping up mixing charges is hard, so requirements are essential.

“We’re engaged on the brand new rule e-book to verify the community is as much as the job,” Ricciardi mentioned. “There’s loads using on it.”

($1 = 0.8648 euros)

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