New hydrogen infrastructure is starting to materialize as the world seeks to accelerate its path to net zero. There are very few shortcuts to a sustainable future and simply switching existing oil and gas infrastructure to hydrogen is not always viable. At the heart of this challenge is physics, hydrogen has a high gravimetric energy density and a low volumetric energy density. This means that among options, hydrogen pipelines will be far better than vessels at moving hydrogen over short to medium range distances.
Today, over 4,300 kilometers already exists for hydrogen transportation with over 90% located in Europe and North America. Rystad Energy estimates that there are about 91 planned pipeline projects in the world, totaling 30,300 kilometers 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 centers, 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 centers. According to Rystad Energy research, Spain, France, and Germany are among the countries committed 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.
Europe’s hydrogen pipeline network will knit the region together
Hydrogen is a key pillar in the EU’s decarbonization as laid out in its hydrogen strategy in 2020, and its deployment received a boost with the ‘Fit for 55’ package. It also plays a central role in the REPowerEU Plan to phase out Russian fossil fuel imports – which aims to produce 10 million tonnes of renewable hydrogen by 2030 and import another 10 Mt in the same time frame. Considering proposed green hydrogen projects in the EU, we are currently at 7.9 Mt of local supply with startup by 2030 (or only 2.1 Mt from target), with nearby supply amounting to 1 Mt in the rest of Europe – primarily UK and Norway – and another 1 Mt in the Middle East. Additionally, 3.4 Mt of proposed projects are in Africa, which could supply the largest amounts of hydrogen to Europe – by ship or pipeline. To plan for the distribution of these within the bloc, the European hydrogen backbone (EHB) initiative, which is a group of 31 European gas transmission system operators (TSOs), has published a vision paper for the future hydrogen pipeline infrastructure. This is based on national analysis of availability of existing natural gas infrastructure, future natural gas market developments, and future hydrogen market developments.
According to the EHB’s 2030 hydrogen infrastructure map, a total length of ~28,000 km in 2030 and 53,000 km by 2040 is envisioned in the 28 European countries involved. Currently, dedicated hydrogen pipelines that will be available by 2030 amount to 23,365 km, which is 83% of 2030 target. Rollout of hydrogen pipelines in Europe would be gradual and the project start of transmission or distribution pipelines will depend on the demand.