As the world accelerates to net zero, hydrogen infrastructure is emerging. Switching oil and gas infrastructure to hydrogen is not always feasible.
Physics—hydrogen has a high gravimetric energy density and a low volumetric energy density—is the challenge. Hydrogen pipelines are superior than vessels for short- to medium-range hydrogen transport.
Hydrogen transportation covers 4,300 kilometres, with 90% in Europe and North America. Rystad Energy anticipates that 91 pipeline projects totaling 30,300 kilometres will be completed by 2035.
Hydrogen will be supplied on land via hydrogen pipelines when shipped as hydrogen or its derivatives, making pipeline transit crucial for the gas. Hydrogen pipelines supply industrial hubs (at petrochemical plants for example).
Long transmission lines will be needed to transport energy from abundant and renewable sources to demand centres. For cost effectiveness, these pipelines will need greater diameters and higher pressure, requiring higher steel grades.
Europe is leading the world in producing and importing green hydrogen and constructing the infrastructure to deliver it to demand centres. Spain, France, and Germany are investigating cross-border pipelines to simplify energy flows, while the UK, with its huge gas system, is well-positioned to move from natural gas to hydrogen, according to Rystad Energy study.
The 2020 EU hydrogen strategy and the ‘Fit for 55′ package boosted hydrogen deployment. The REPowerEU Plan to phase out Russian fossil fuel imports intends to produce 10 million tonnes of renewable hydrogen by 2030 and import 10 Mt.
Considering proposed EU green hydrogen projects, we now have 7.9 Mt of local supply with startup by 2030 (2.1 Mt from target), with 1 Mt in the rest of Europe (mainly UK and Norway) and 1 Mt in the Middle East. 3.4 Mt of African projects could ship or route the most hydrogen to Europe.
The European hydrogen backbone (EHB) initiative, a consortium of 31 European gas transmission system operators (TSOs), has produced a vision paper for future hydrogen pipeline infrastructure to plan for distribution inside the union. Based on national examination of natural gas infrastructure availability, natural gas market developments, and hydrogen market developments.
The EHB’s 2030 hydrogen infrastructure plan predicts 28,000 km in 2030 and 53,000 km by 2040 in the 28 European countries. 23,365 km of dedicated hydrogen pipelines will be available by 2030, 83% of objective. Hydrogen pipelines in Europe will be gradually installed, depending on demand.
France, Spain, Germany
Europe plans offshore and onshore pipelines. The 450-km H2Med Barcelona-Marseille underwater hydrogen pipeline will cost $2.1 billion and be extended to Germany. Four grid operators—Enagas, REN, GRT, and Terega—are completing technical studies, pipeline design, and cost estimates.
AquaDuctus will deliver green hydrogen from North Sea offshore wind farms to Germany. According to one of its project partners, RWE, the pipeline is the most cost-effective way to transmit huge volumes of electricity over 400 kilometres compared to a High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) transmission system. Power cables cannot transfer power onshore.
Greece began building the West Macedonia natural gas pipeline this year. It was designed to reliably transport 100% hydrogen at high pressure through large-diameter high-strength steel tubes. DESFA will operate this 163-km EHB pipeline.
Repurposing gas networks will complement new hydrogen pipeline construction. The EHB predicts 60% repurposing by 2040, whereas pipeline projects estimate 40%.
More pipelines are needed, but they may confront traffic, construction, and environmental issues, especially if they cross residential areas. Cadent’s new 125 km HyNet North West pipeline in the UK may hinder project development. HyNet will produce, store, and distribute hydrogen and capture carbon from Northwest industry.
The pipeline, which may be the UK’s first large-scale 100% hydrogen pipeline, will distribute hydrogen from Stanlow Manufacturing Complex to many industrial gas users in the region. But, the country’s hydrogen pipeline regulatory model hasn’t been decided, and Warrington Council, one of the pipeline’s local authorities, said it would disturb a local housing development.
Repurposing pipelines is cheaper than building new ones and faster. Repurposing Europe’s huge gas grid for hydrogen as gas diminishes will revive a system that may otherwise rot. Repurposed steel natural gas pipelines can carry 100% hydrogen after modifications. Hydrogen combined with gas for direct or indirect heating is limited to 20%.
Reusing gas pipes
Studies show that using natural gas grids for hydrogen transport is four times cheaper than building pipelines. Repurposed natural gas pipes and new pipelines for hydrogen transmission have similar operational costs.
Transporting hydrogen instead of natural gas may be similar because capital expenses are higher than operational costs.
Hydrogen embrittlement of steel and weld, hydrogen permeation, and leakage must be overcome to repurpose natural gas pipelines.
Hydrogen embrittlement, which causes hydrogen-assisted fatigue and fracture, is a major problem for existing steel natural gas pipelines.
Hydrogen molecules can leak through materials. Coating, sleeves, and casing of material resistant to hydrogen embrittlement and permeation can be used to carry hydrogen, however this has not been tried commercially in transmission pipelines.
Reinforced thermoplastic pipes (RTP) could be used in hydrogen distribution pipelines because they are longer than steel and 20% cheaper to build. 62.5% of the UK’s gas distribution network has polyethylene put into iron pipes, and most of these networks are considered for hydrogen use.
As part of the UK iron gas mains replacement programme, 90% of the old gas distribution network will adopt polyethylene by 2032. The UK is fortunate to be able to expedite hydrogen pipeline distribution as needed.
Yet, Open Grid Europe and Stuttgart University found that German gas network steel tubes are “hydrogen-ready” and can carry 100% hydrogen. They “possess no distinctions in terms of their basic aptitude for carrying hydrogen compared to natural gas”.
Gas pipelines in Germany and other European countries use all steel grades. Samples of German pipeline steel were measured using extensive methods that included hydrogen pressure, unlike earlier studies.
Pipe producers have expressed optimism about the study’s findings. Hydrogen embrittlement may impact pipes based on their metallurgical and mechanical qualities and condition after years of usage.
Rystad Energy expects hydrogen pipeline suitability to vary substantially. This conclusion only concerns pipes, not compression, valves, or other components, but gas pipelines can be hydrogen-ready with less effort than previously anticipated.