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What is driving the demand for LNG services – interview with Torben Brabo, GIE President

Torben Brabo will be one of the speakers of the Budapest LNG Summit, to be held on 6 December 2021.

According to Gas Infrastructure Europe’s (GIE) annual update, demand for liquified natural gas (LNG) services is growing, despite the economic impact of the COVID crisis. In particular, LNG Truck loadings have increased on average by about 12 per cent per year over the last 4 years, to reach almost 80,000 operations in 2020. LNG small-scale ship loadings are picking up speed with 150 operations in 2020, which is almost 50 per cent than the year before. And that is without mentioning the operations from small scale LNG or bio-LNG facilities in Europe.

CEENERGYNEWS spoke with Torben Brabo, GIE President about the advantages of using LNG to reach the decarbonisation targets and the role played by other gaseous fuels and hydrogen.

“In general EU gas imports increases and we need more LNG,” he begins. “Regionally, countries diversify and uses access to the global LNG market as their preferred option. Another key component driving the growth is the transition of the transport sector, where electrification isn’t possible. Ship transport, heavy-duty trucks, long haul, etc. For them, LNG is a good option and there are few alternatives.”

He also mentions e-fuels and hydrogen which will also play a role in the future, but in the next 10-15 years LNG is preferred.

“For the last 2-3 years we have assessed detailed how the (LNG) terminals can have an increasing role in the EU transition,” he continues. “Not only can LNG be imported. Many other low-carbon and renewable gasses is an option. Such as ammonia, hydrogen, LOHC, etc. Our GLE [Gas LNG Europe] President Arno Büx has led this development.”

Indeed, other gaseous fuels such as bio-methane and decarbonised gases could play an important role in the energy transition.

“Toward 2050 EU gas demand will decrease somewhat: from 4000 terawatts-hour (TWh) down to approximately 3000 TWh,” Mr Brabo explains. “And the share of natural gas will be reduced significantly. Some studies conclude that all of the 3000 TWh will come from biomethane or hydrogen.”

“So we are looking into a revolution-like transition. All of what we know will change. To some extent, biomethane is easier than hydrogen, as we can use biomethane directly in the existing infrastructure, markets, etc. Some hydrogen can be blended in as well in the existing system. But the pure hydrogen will be based on a new setting. Hydrogen is different to methane.”

Therefore, how can we adapt the current gas infrastructure to transport hydrogen as well? Or when can we concretely start talking about hydrogen? As Mr Brabo points out, the EU energy transition towards 2050 is immense. So, for him, it’s not only about when prices fall.

“We probably can’t wait for that,” he underlines. “So initially it will be based on using hydrogen where it has the highest value. Thus reducing the need for subsidies as much as possible. Subsidies will, however, be a main driver in the next decade. But I am very optimistic, as technologies and our understanding evolve faster and faster. On many topics, what we know today, we didn’t know four years ago. And what we hoped four years ago on technological development towards 2030, we now expect in 2025 or 2027.”

“For hydrogen infrastructure, GIE members have assessed that we can use a lot of the existing natural gas infrastructure for hydrogen. We can retrofit or repurpose. It’s actually much faster and much cheaper.”

Voicing around 70 members from 27 countries, GIE has just presented a paper about how blending hydrogen molecules in the existing gas infrastructure can be part of the solutions to help deliver the European Commission’s Hydrogen strategy. However, the legislation should set up an explicit regulatory framework for hydrogen blending into gas networks and R&D and advanced gas quality handling tools should be further developed to continue investigating the technical possibilities of blending.

When speaking of gas, we cannot avoid mentioning that methane emissions associated with gas system operators’ activities represent around 4 per cent of total methane emissions. Since 1990, methane emissions from the gas sector decreased by 61 per cent, partly thanks to mitigation measures. Now, GIE together with the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Gas (ENTSOG), the European Gas Research Group (GERG) and associations MARCOGAZ and Eurogas are committing to undertaking even stronger steps to achieve further emissions reductions.

“Our first aim was to prepare a global/European framework for understanding, assessing and progressing with reduction of methane emissions,” explains Torben Brabo. “Thus we have prepared facts/figures. These show that European TSO’s are emitting the smallest amounts of methane in the gas value chain. For us, that doesn’t give us a safe status. We are committed to reducing our emissions to the best of our abilities.”

Thus, GIE has proposed monitoring, reporting and verification, as well as an action catalogue on leak detection and repair, with some of its members leading the work on the Methane Emissions, in particular Spanish Enagas, led by Francisco de la Flor Garcia.

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