Rhine-Main region is embarking on an ambitious journey to establish a vast network of hydrogen pipelines spanning 300 kilometers by 2028. This visionary project aims to facilitate the seamless transition to hydrogen as a primary energy source, positioning the region at the forefront of sustainable technology adoption.
The impetus for this strategic shift comes from a recently published feasibility study, conducted by the consulting firm EY in collaboration with 16 energy supply companies, and commissioned by the State Energy Agency. This study provides the most concrete insights to date into the hydrogen industry’s demand, pipeline routes, and the anticipated costs of this transformative infrastructure. The total investment required to establish this hydrogen “backbone” in the Rhine-Main region is estimated at a substantial €540 million.
The proposed distribution grid will initially serve as a parallel structure to the existing gas grids, which will remain essential for some time. Key grid operators involved in this endeavor include Open Grid Europe, Gasgade, and Terranets BW, all with plans to construct vital pipelines by the end of the decade. Among these pipelines, one is slated to connect Cologne to Gernsheim in southern Hesse, while the “Central Germany Connection Pipeline” is designed to transport hydrogen from Reckrod near Fulda to Lampertheim.
The envisioned routes form a V-shaped network through the Rhine-Main area, with potential connections established around Mainz in the west and Großauheim and Obertshausen in the east of the conurbation. These pipelines will serve a diverse clientele, including major companies such as Opel, Essity, and Schott, as well as businesses in Frankfurt and Hanau. Prominent among these is Infraserv Höchst and industrial giants like Heraeus and Evonik, all of whom are eager to embrace the benefits of hydrogen in their operations.
This transition to hydrogen is not limited to industries alone. Many are eager for a quick connection to a hydrogen infrastructure to facilitate the conversion of processes like steam generation. Energy suppliers are also betting on hydrogen as a more environmentally friendly alternative for their heating customers. According to the study, achieving carbon neutrality in heating will require a combination of potentially climate-neutral energy sources, including electricity (from photovoltaics and wind power), district heating, renewable energies (solar thermal energy, geothermal energy, and biomass), and hydrogen. The study underscores that a one-size-fits-all solution is not viable for the decarbonization of the heating market.
However, it’s essential to note that hydrogen, despite its potential, presents challenges. Hesse’s Minister of Energy and Economic Affairs, Tarek Al-Wazir, often emphasizes that hydrogen will remain an expensive and limited resource for the foreseeable future. In terms of production capacity, it remains uncertain who will be able to supply the desired quantities of green, i.e., climate-neutral, hydrogen. Within Hesse itself, the study participants concur that only a limited quantity can be produced locally. Nonetheless, the region’s business community is pushing for early preparations to embrace hydrogen.
The State Energy Agency is now focusing on establishing a regional mainline, corresponding to the construction of two supra-regional pipelines, to supply the first large-scale commercial consumers in the Rhine-Main region. Although businesses in the region are keen on adopting this new energy source, predicting their exact needs remains challenging. The study suggests a demand of at least 2030.2 terawatt hours for the year 2032, a feasible starting point for the hydrogen ramp-up. However, this figure could be as high as four times that amount, leading to an average value of 8.3 terawatt hours.
By 2045, when Germany aims to free itself entirely from fossil fuels, the Rhine-Main region might require up to 54 terawatt hours of hydrogen, equivalent to the country’s current total hydrogen demand. Due to the substantial fluctuations in these forecasts, the study establishes an average value of 30 terawatt hours.