New hydrogen infrastructure is starting to materialise as the world seeks to accelerate its path to net zero, noted independent advisory, research and business intelligence company, Rystad Energy.
Today, over 4,300 kilometres already exist for hydrogen transportation with over 90 per cent located in Europe and North America. Rystad Energy estimates that there are about 91 planned pipeline projects in the world, totalling 30,300 kilometres and due to come online by around 2035.
In cases where hydrogen will be shipped (as hydrogen or its derivatives), it will eventually be distributed on land using hydrogen pipelines, which makes transport via pipelines a critical transportation mode for the gas. Hydrogen pipelines are already used to supply industrial hubs (at petrochemical plants for example). As supply scales up and moves from areas with abundant and renewable energy to demand centres, long transmission lines will be a necessity and these pipelines would require larger diameters and higher pressure for cost-effectiveness and consequently higher steel grades.
Globally, Europe is at the forefront of efforts to produce and import green hydrogen and its attention is now turning to building the necessary infrastructure to get it to demand centres. According to Rystad Energy research, Spain, France and Germany are among the countries committed to or considering cross-border pipelines to facilitate energy flows, while the UK with its extensive gas grid finds itself in a fantastic position to switch from natural gas to hydrogen.
“The steady increase in pipeline projects for hydrogen is an early sign that the energy transition is gathering pace,” commented Lein Mann Bergsmark, Senior Analyst for hydrogen. “Europe, with its extensive gas grid is well placed to make the jump. Switching infrastructure from gas to hydrogen is possible and cost-effective. But the greatest barrier is not financial, but the physical properties of hydrogen itself which differ substantially from oil and gas.”
Other than France, Spain and Germany, Rystad Energy also mentions Greece, with the West Macedonia pipeline whose construction began earlier this year. It was designed to be capable of safely carrying 100 per cent hydrogen at a later stage at high-pressure through high-strength steel pipelines with large diameters. Greek gas transmission system operator DESFA will operate this 163-km pipeline, which is part of the European Hydrogen Backbone initiative.
Indeed, the construction of new dedicated hydrogen pipelines will be complemented by the repurposing of existing gas networks. According to the EHB, 60 per cent could be repurposed by 2040, while according to pipeline projects in the works, this currently accounts for 40 per cent.