Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Germany found itself in a severe choice between the building of liquefied gas stations and the objective of eliminating fossil fuels.
Berlin receives two-thirds of its natural gas from Russia, which totaled 142 billion cubic meters in 2021, and is presently trying to phase out fossil fuel imports from Russia by bolstering liquefied gas infrastructure, but these plans conflict with vows to cut emissions.
In light of this, it is conceivable to use part of the infrastructure built for LNG plants to transport green hydrogen in the future without becoming stranded assets, but as a recent Bloomberg story illustrates, these plans are still speculative and face several difficulties.
Liquefied gas stations
Germany intends to phase out fossil fuels as a source of power by 2035, but the consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may threaten those plans.
Rather than closing down natural gas infrastructure, Germany is now developing new liquefied gas stations to wean itself from Russian gas.
To this end, Germany leased four floating gas regasification and storage units earlier this month in order to secure gas supplies through liquefied gas imports instead of waiting for the construction of new permanent stations, which could take years; this is jeopardizing its plans to end its reliance on Russian supplies by the summer of 2024.
Such plans would jeopardize Germany’s aim of carbon neutrality by 2050. As a result, Berlin intends to adapt the already proposed and essential liquefied gas stations to handle the current energy crisis so that they may be used to import green hydrogen in the future.
Green hydrogen conversion
Regardless of the preceding, these proposals are on the radar of new German terminal investors. Han Venema, CEO of Dutch gas network operator “Gazioni,” indicated that the first step is to minimize reliance on Russian gas, but the second phase will be faster than predicted thanks to green hydrogen.
Green hydrogen is difficult to store and transport since its molecules are considerably smaller than methane, which makes up a big component of natural gas.
Even though hydrogen is transported as a liquid in ships, it must be chilled to below minus 250 degrees Celsius, which necessitates entirely different pipelines than natural gas, which must be cooled to minus 160 degrees Celsius to become a liquid.
Furthermore, storage tanks, the most expensive component of any LNG facility, are ineffective at keeping tiny hydrogen molecules, and not all pipelines can handle pure hydrogen; it corrodes metal structures and creates leaks.
Arnaud Buicks, Flexis’ chief commercial officer, stated that switching the LNG facility to liquid hydrogen is a technological difficulty, but that it is an economically feasible model in the long run.
The simplest way to transport hydrogen is to convert it to ammonia, which liquefies readily around – 33 degrees Celsius and may be used as a fuel, as well as being turned back into hydrogen fuel.
Boyks notes that the same tanks and pipelines used in LNG facilities can be utilized in ammonia plants, noting that the cost of modifying an existing plant is just 15% of the cost of building a new facility.
However, converting liquefied gas stations for use in ammonia transportation presents a new set of challenges. The ammonia-handling coolant pumps at the facility will need to be replaced.
According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, converting ammonia to hydrogen is also an energy-intensive process, with 13 percent to 34 percent of hydrogen energy possibly wasted (IRENA).
Germany has the third choice
The import of synthetic LNG is a third alternative indicated by most of the planned LNG facilities in Germany.
This fuel is made by mixing hydrogen with carbon dioxide, which can be obtained from manufacturing stacks or decomposing biological waste, to produce methane, which has a chemical makeup comparable to natural gas.
Methane may now be readily transported or transformed back into green hydrogen and utilized for decarbonization in industries like steel manufacturing and transportation.
Although this process produces carbon dioxide, it may be recovered and brought back to the source, where it can be mixed with hydrogen to make additional synthetic LNG, resulting in a closed loop with no carbon released into the atmosphere.