As the hype around green hydrogen intensifies, several energy firms and governments are exploring the potential for transforming existing natural gas infrastructure to be used to transport hydrogen as the world transitions away from fossil fuels. Now, the U.K. has announced a new development, trialing a hydrogen-gas project to see if this vision can become a reality.
The U.K. will trial using existing gas infrastructure with hydrogen to see whether it is possible to transform this infrastructure to be used in renewable energy projects, rather than constructing an entirely new network of plants and pipelines. London-listed Centrica plans to inject hydrogen into a gas-fired, grid-connected power station to integrate the energy carrier into existing infrastructure. The trial will take place over 12 months in a gas-peaking facility in Lincolnshire, east England.
Centrica explained the 49-megawatt facility had been “designed to meet demand during peak times or when generation from renewables is low, typically operating for less than three hours a day.” It added, “Mixing hydrogen in with natural gas reduces the overall carbon intensity.” The firm also stated, “It’s anticipated that during the trial, getting underway in Q3 2023, no more than three percent of the gas mix could be hydrogen, increasing to 20% incrementally after the project.”
The International Energy Agency (IEA) has highlighted the potential for hydrogen, particularly green hydrogen derived from renewable energy sources and produced using electrolysis to split water into oxygen and hydrogen. It expects hydrogen to be developed as a pivotal green energy source that can be used for a variety of applications, including heating, cooking, and powering vehicles. The IEA views hydrogen as a versatile energy carrier that can be used across a plethora of industries.
Several major hydrogen projects are already underway across Europe, with Spain currently dominating the industry. Spanish firm Cepsa announced in October that it will establish the first green hydrogen corridorbetween southern and northern Europe, in partnership with the Port of Rotterdam. This followed an announcement by the European Commission in September that it plans to provide $5.13 billion in funding for hydrogen projects across Europe. This supports the EU target of installing 40 GW of renewable hydrogen electrolyzers across the region by 2030.
The European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, stated in her September State of the Union address “hydrogen can be a game changer for Europe. We need to move our hydrogen economy from niche to scale.” She also highlighted the aim for the EU to produce 10 million tonnes of renewable hydrogen each year from 2030.
With more green hydrogen projects underway worldwide, several countries are exploring how they may use existing infrastructure to transport the clean energy source, rather than investing in entirely new systems. Earlier this year, FNB Gas, the association of supra-regional gas transmission companies in Germany, mapped out Germany’s potential future H2 grid, with the potential to transport renewable energy across great distances by converting existing infrastructure. FNB believes that gas pipelines can be used to provide a continuous stream of hydrogen, as well as being more cost-effective than transporting the fuel via road, rail, or ship. The firm estimate, a total of 5,100 kilometers of pipelines would be required to interconnect generation assets, storage facilities, and end users. An estimated 3,700 kilometers could be made available by converting natural gas pipelines, at a cost of around $5.93 billion.
Inga Posch, Managing Director at FNB Gas, stated, “It should be comparatively cost-effective to expand the hydrogen infrastructure using existing gas grids. Lines that today carry natural gas could tomorrow be used to carry hydrogen and other green gasses.” However, “First, we will need a solid, comprehensive legal framework as well as an integrated grid development plan. Then, transmission system operators can hit the ground running,” she added.
In 2021, ACER, the EU Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators, released a report entitled “Transporting Pure Hydrogen by Repurposing Existing Gas Infrastructure: Overview of existing studies and reflections on the conditions for repurposing”, which laid the groundwork for transforming existing natural gas infrastructure for use with hydrogen. The publication reviews 24 studies on the potential for infrastructure conversion, many of which were carried out by gas companies. The report determined that the conditions for “repurposing of existing NG lines or for new hydrogen lines are likely to be met in very few, carefully selected locations across Europe,” and that hydrogen corridors must be chosen based on detailed market studies of potential industrial consumers of hydrogen.
Although several studies have highlighted the potential for the conversion of existing natural gas infrastructure for use with hydrogen, most hydrogen projects currently underway are in the early stages of development. Greater investment in hydrogen in Europe, from the EU, state governments, and private companies, will mean a significant boost in hydrogen production over the next five to 10 years. However, clear hydrogen markets have yet to be established and, therefore, the rollout of hydrogen corridors may be delayed as these markets gradually become clearer. Nevertheless, early projects such as the Centrica U.K. gas plant development and the Cepsa hydrogen corridor could lay the groundwork for the large-scale expansion of the hydrogen industry on a global scale.