August 2020, Vol. 247, No. 8


Germany Plans Ambitious Hydrogen Pipeline Network

By Nicholas Newman, Contributing Editor

Over the next decade, Germany plans to create the longest hydrogen transmission pipeline network in the world. This development will form part of Germany’s contribution to the European Union’s Energy and Environmental policies. It is designed to meet climate change obligations under the Paris accords and will be an integral part of the country’s “green stimulus” program to restart the economy after the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.

This year, the German Federal Government assigned $10 billion, under its National Hydrogen Strategy policy, toward kick-starting an expansion of electrolysis capacity for large-scale hydrogen production. 

Also, a nationwide pipeline system called the H2 network will be constructed to deliver hydrogen to domestic and industrial customers. Hydrogen is environmentally friendly when produced from renewable power sources and has multiple uses.

For example, hydrogen can fuel buses, trains and trucks generating power for industry and fuel heating systems. It could eventually displace natural gas, which meets about a quarter of Germany’s primary energy consumption and half of Germany’s heating.

For Germany, hydrogen has the potential to improve energy security while simultaneously reducing carbon emissions. For domestic heating, hydrogen could prove more economical. Replacing natural gas in domestic heating is a much cheaper option than full electrification of heating.

In the heavy industrial sector like steelmaking, with high-temperature requirements of over 930 degrees F (500 degrees C), hydrogen is much more cost-effective than electricity. Also, hydrogen is a more flexible energy solution than renewables, especially given the shortage of electricity storage capacity in the country. 

At present, most of Germany’s hydrogen is produced in factories powered by coal, oil or natural gas, which results in “gray” hydrogen. When carbon-capture technologies are applied to that same process, the resulting product is called “blue” hydrogen. But hydrogen that is produced using emission-free renewables earns the title “green” hydrogen.

Hydrogen Strategy

Germany’s National Hydrogen Strategy’s goal is to not only replace current gray hydrogen production with green, but also to expand green production for use throughout the economy, including for transportation, power generation, heating and industrial processes.

Therefore, Germany plans to build 5 GW of electrolyser capacity by 2030, an additional 5 GW by 2035 and another 5 GW by 2040, totalling 15 GW, all powered by offshore wind. Part of the funding for the National Hydrogen Strategy will come from Germany’s renewable energy surcharge, the Erneuerbare-Energien-Gesetz (EEG). 

Currently, the EEG is set at a rate of 7.62 cents (6.75 euro cents) per kilowatt hour and currently accounts for about a fifth of a German household’s electricity bill.

H2 Pipeline Network

The planned nationwide hydrogen 3,666-mile (5,900-km) pipeline network is designed for large-scale transmission of hydrogen throughout Germany and should be completed by 2030 (Figure 1).

The proposed design of the H2 pipeline network is based on joint research by the Forschungsgesellschaft fur Energiewirtschaft mbH (FfE) and the Energy Industry Research Association. It was commissioned by Germany’s 14 transmission system grid operators that are members of the country’s pipeline grid operators’ association FNB Gas, which includes Gas Transport Nord, Gasunie and Grt Gaz.

The 2019 study details the likely location of new hydrogen production factories and major markets. In detail, it outlines the main potential domestic production sources for green hydrogen in northern states, including Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Brandenburg, Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony, and in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

At the time of publication, Germany was home to some 31 integrated hydrogen- renewables production sites at different stages of development. Most of these projects are located near existing leading industrial centers, such as the Ruhr area along the Rhine River in western Germany. Germany’s first and only commercially operating integrated hydrogen renewables factory is the $8.35 million (€7.4 million) Westküste 100 project in Schleswig-Holstein near the Danish border. 

This 30-GW hydrogen factory is powered by an offshore wind farm and will be expanded to reach 700 GW. This project is being developed by a consortium of private companies, including Ørsted, EDF Germany, Holcim Germany, OGE, Raffinerie Heide, Stadtwerke Heide, ThyssenKrupp Industrial Solutions, the Region Heide development agency and the Westküste University of Applied Sciences.

H2 Objectives

The H2 route network is designed to be connected to existing cavern storage facilities with for potential use as hydrogen storage facilities to balance hydrogen production with demand. Also, potential industrial consumers such as steel producers, the chemical industry, refineries and regions are affected by the coal phase-out and local hydrogen networks that already exist today.

In addition, it will serve large urban areas, which can reduce carbon emissions in the heating sector by blending hydrogen into regional gas distribution grids. This practice is already occurring elsewhere in Europe, including Leeds and Sheffield in northern England and Naples in southern Italy.

It is designed to connect with the increasing number of hydrogen road filling stations, parts of the non-electrified rail network and future cross-border import points for hydrogen. At the time of writing, Germany had more than 84 hydrogen filling stations and two prototype hydrogen-powered passenger trains. The hydrogen-fueled trains are being used on a 62-mile (100-km) branch line between Cuxhaven and Buxtehude in northern Germany, where they are replacing diesel trains.

FNB Gas, Germany’s transmission grid operator association, expects at least 90% of the new hydrogen grid network to use existing converted natural gas pipelines to transport hydrogen. The main direction of flow is likely to be from the wind-rich north to industrial centers, mostly in the west and south.

Additionally, H2 will link up with neighboring hydrogen pipeline networks of grid system operator Gasunie in Holland and GRT gaz SA in France to facilitate energy trading.

Project Implementation

Commenting on this approach, FNB Gas Head Ralph Bahke states, “Transmission grid operators are committed to also using the existing gas infrastructure for hydrogen. We are working at full speed on concrete technical and network planning solutions to ensure that the integration can be successful.”

Initially, H2 will not discriminate between the three types of hydrogen. But, in time, green hydrogen produced along the North Sea and Baltic coasts supplemented by climate-neutral tanker and pipeline imports will predominate. In contrast, the major centers of hydrogen consumption will be the major inland urban and industrial clusters, including Berlin, Essen, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Koln, Leipzig and Munich.

The first step in the H2 network will be a hydrogen pipeline network called GET H2 Nukleus, which is being developed by BP, Evonik, Nowega, OGE and RWE Generation. The 81-mile (130-km) pipeline is designed to transport green hydrogen to industrial customers in the West German states of Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia. It will be operated under open access and transparent pricing market regulations when it is completed in 2022.

Germany’s National Hydrogen Strategy follows the same script as its successful earlier adoption of wind and solar power. Among its goals is to reduce carbon emissions from 858 million tonnes (946 million US tons) in 2018 to 563 million tonnes (621million U.S. tons) by 2030.

Tristian Chapman, senior vice president of Clean Energy at Lloyds Register, notes that current gray hydrogen is more expensive than natural gas, since gas power generation is used in the process of splitting water to create oxygen and hydrogen. Also, he observes that there are additional costs in adapting gas pipeline technology to handle the transportation of hydrogen. However, the cost of producing green hydrogen is likely to fall over time as economies of scale are achieved. 

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