Hydrogen: Discussing Future Prospects
Hydrogen plays an important role in the Energiewende. It can be stored and transported. This means that renewable energies can be used for new applications in industry and the transport sector, and CO2 emissions can be significantly reduced. What is needed is a reliable network for transporting hydrogen. Frank Heunemann, Torsten Lotze and Dr. Ludger Hellenthal show opportunities and perspectives in the egeNews expert interview.
The article was recently published in our egeNews.
Mr Heunemann, with the GET H2 Nukleus project, we have a concrete plan related to establishing the first publicly accessible hydrogen network. What motivates a transport network operator such as Nowega to be so committed to this purpose?
Frank Heunemann: Hydrogen provides us with the opportunity to use renewable energies for new applications, e. g. industrial processes, thus significantly reducing CO2 emissions very soon. It can be stored and, more than that, transported efficiently. As transportation network operators, we boast comprehensive experience with natural gas transport and also have what it takes to build a hydrogen transport network. Without a reliable network providing nondiscriminatory access for hydrogen transportation, establishing a hydrogen energy economy in Germany and in Europe will not be possible. By becoming involved in this project, we therefore assume an important role in implementing the energy turnaround.
To what degree will this involve the construction of a new transportation network from your point of view? Or will the German transportation network operators be able to convert former natural gas pipelines to fit this purpose?
Frank Heunemann: Particularly with respect to the transportation network, pre-existing natural gas pipelines can be converted into hydrogen pipelines. The transportation network operators have designed a plan (cf. diagram) for the creation of a visionary hydrogen transportation network (green) in Germany. For this network, which is 5,900 km long, only a small part of new pipelines would need to be laid. Plans for an initial part of this network, related to the green gas variant of the NEP gas for a time frame running until 2030, have already been elaborated further (blue). Conversion of the pipelines is not only more cost-effective and faster than laying new pipes — it will also boost acceptance of the energy turnaround by the general public by significantly reducing the need for constructional interventions.
Until now, the main focus has been on the demand for hydrogen from refineries and steelworks. Mr Lotze, how do distribution network operators in Germany assess the situation? How and when does the distribution network come into play?
Torsten Lotze: By and large, the gas infrastructure of the distribution networks is suitable for transporting natural gas with 20 % hydrogen, and the same holds true for pure hydrogen. In principle, the pipeline materials used in the distribution network (low-alloy steels, PE 80 / 100, PVC) feature the required material compatibility. If it is
not possible to assess the compatibility of materials / function of any existing unknown installations such as fittings with hydrogen by means of conclusion by analogy (based on fittings which have already passed the test), these unknown fittings have to be assessed separately. The DVGW (German Transport Regulations Society) regulations which apply for the gas sector are currently being modified with a view to feeding 20% vol hydrogen as well as pure hydrogen. For new distribution networks with 100% hydrogen, pipes with an additional permeation barrier should be used to prevent or reduce hydrogen permeation
What opportunities do you see for new distribution networks with 100% hydrogen? I would assume that there must be quite a few commercial enterprises with an interest in hydrogen rather than natural gas?
Torsten Lotze: How and where mere hydrogen networks are established greatly depends on the existing demand. Today, hydrogen is significantly more expensive than natural gas, which implies that an exclusive hydrogen distribution network depends on network customers who are intent on using pure hydrogen, e. g. hydrogen filling stations or businesses which completely switch to renewables and want to replace natural gas by hydrogen.
Mr Hellenthal, you are a developer of this kind of industrial parks and you see great potential for hydrogen in the transport sector. How will hydrogen establish itself in the realm of transport first?
Dr. Ludger Hellenthal: The first thing we are seeing are the demands for hydrogen trucks which — in the calculable field of regional logistics and on European transport routes more than anywhere else — are in need of a hydrogen infrastructure. Owing to the carbon tax and RED II Directive, the market share of hydrogen and the resulting demand for filling station infrastructure can be expected to increase significantly step by step.
Will we then exclusively be dealing with green hydrogen in the transport sector? In other words, hydrogen from renewable energies?
Dr. Ludger Hellenthal: In some industrial sectors, the demand will probably we so great that, at least for an interim period, hydrogen of “different colours” can/should also be used. We will then ultimately end up with “green hydrogen”. In the mobility sector, green hydrogen should be used right away in order to achieve maximum CO2-reduction and to drive vehicles with lower emissions in inner cities. This is ultimately about the conversion of the entire transport sector to renewable energies. We already have hydrogen-based trains, and Airbus, too, intends to develop hydrogen-powered airplanes. Another exciting step will then consist in the development of the remaining sectors for industrial applications, refineries and also private households perspectively from 2025/2030 onwards.
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