The task of creating a green hydrogen economy is complicated by financial, technical and regulatory hurdles, says Gord Cope.
Green hydrogen is hot. The ubiquitous element can be made anywhere using renewable power, water and electrolysis. Unlike conventional hydrocarbon energy, consuming nations cannot be held hostage by a belligerent producing country. Hydrogen is also energy-dense, and can be burned in fuel cells or converted to ammonia and used in internal combustion engines (ICE), similar to gasoline diesel and jet-fuel. When consumed as fuel, it emits nothing but water. Best of all, it can be economically transported by pipeline; Rystad Energy, a consultancy, estimates that there are over 90 projects with a total exceeding 30 000 km of new hydrogen pipelines planned by 2035.
But the infrastructure to create and deliver green hydrogen to industry, utilities and consumers is not cheap, with estimates quickly exceeding trillion of dollars. Governments around the world are therefore kick-starting the move to green hydrogen with a combination of subsidies and regulations.
The EU has set a goal of reducing greenhouse gases (GHGs) by at least 55% below 1990 levels by 2030. In the aftermath of the energy crisis related to the Ukraine war, it is being generous with green hydrogen subsidies, including €5.4 billion for Hy2Tech (an initiative that aims to perfect hydrogen technology), and €5.2 billion for Hy2Use (which will invest in applications in hard-to-decarbonise sectors such as cement, steel and glass). A further €3 billion subsidy, dubbed the Hydrogen Bank, will help stimulate demand.
While onshore windfarms face uphill permitting battles on the populated continent, the EU has vast swaths of sea in which to install renewable power assets. DNV, a consultancy, is a leading advocate for developing green hydrogen in the North Sea. It recently released a study in which it estimated that a ‘North Sea hydrogen backbone’ consisting of 4200 km of pipelines could be built using existing technology at a cost of US$15.9 billion to US$23.3 billion. Offshore wind farms could generate an estimated 300 terawatt hours (TWh) of power, enough to create up to 15% of the estimated hydrogen consumption in 2050.
GASCADE and Fluxys, transmission system operators based in Germany, are working to develop the AquaDuctus project, an offshore green hydrogen pipeline running from wind farms in the North Sea’s Dogger Banks to an energy hub on the Heligoland archipelago 60 km north of Schleswig-Holstein (Germany). In early 2023, they submitted their project to the European Commission to have it declared a project of common interest (PCI). PCIs link energy systems in the EU, and the official designation can benefit projects with accelerated permitting procedures and funding from the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF).
In February 2023, OX2, based in Sweden, and the Bank of Aland announced a major green hydrogen project, located in the Port of Långnäs, Finland …
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