Gas grid operators unveil plan for European hydrogen infrastructure ‘backbone’

A group of eleven European gas infrastructure companies from nine EU member states presented on Friday (17 July) a plan to create a dedicated hydrogen pipeline network of almost 23,000 km by 2040, to be used in parallel to the natural gas grid.

The “European hydrogen backbone” was presented in a vision paper developed by transmission system operators Enagás, Energinet, Fluxys Belgium, Gasunie, GRTgaz, NET4GAS, OGE, ONTRAS, Snam, Swedegas (Nordion Energi), Teréga, and consultancy company Guidehouse.

The proposed network will run through Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland.

“We see the European Hydrogen Backbone as a critical piece of the puzzle” to decarbonising energy, the companies write, saying they “fully support the European Green Deal”.

The “backbone” will connect future hydrogen supply and demand centres across Europe, such as industrial clusters, carbon capture and storage locations and large scale renewable electricity production sites, including off-shore wind farms in the North Sea and solar power plants in the South of Europe.

Constructing a hydrogen infrastructure will make it easier to scale up both the production and use of hydrogen, the gas operators say.

“This paper concludes that the cost of such a European Hydrogen Backbone can be very modest compared to the foreseen size of the hydrogen markets. That is why we now propose to launch it as a ‘first mover’, facilitating developments on the supply and demand side,” the group adds.

Once volumes and distances of hydrogen transport increase, pipelines will be an efficient and cost-effective option, the operators explain.

The amount of electricity required for transporting hydrogen over a distance of 1,000 km is comparable to around 2% of the energy content of the transported hydrogen – although that electricity will not necessarily be produced from hydrogen, the report says.

According to a “preliminary estimation” cited in the report, the proposed network should be able to transport more than the expected 1,130 TWh of annual hydrogen demand in Europe by 2040 and cost between €27 and €64 billion.

“These costs are relatively limited in the overall context of the European energy transition and substantially lower than earlier rough estimations,” the report states.

The “modest” price tag of the project is partly due to the assumption that 75% of the network will consist of retrofitted natural gas pipelines – which are gradually expected to become redundant as volumes of natural gas decrease in the future.

The plan comes on the back of the energy system integration and hydrogen strategies presented by the European Commission on 8 July, which mentioned the need to build a dedicated hydrogen pipeline network in the future.

Hydrogen is considered a key enabler to decarbonise industries such as steel and chemicals as well as heavy duty transport. It can also be used as a storage medium, helping to balance the electricity grid during peak demand.

To boost the nascent European hydrogen industry, the European Commission also launched a European Clean Hydrogen Alliance, bringing together industry leaders, civil society, national and regional ministers and the European Investment Bank.

Three phases of development

According to the eleven operators, the proposed network will gradually develop over fifteen years, starting from the mid-2020s:

  • By 2030, an “initial” pipeline network of 6,800 km will connect local clusters of hydrogen production and use – so-called “hydrogen valleys”.
  • By 2035, a stretched network will start connecting consumers in the centre of the continent to regions with “abundant green hydrogen resource potential” – such as Danish offshore wind farms or solar and wind farms in the south of France.
  • By 2040, a true pan-European network of just over 22,900 km is foreseen, which will be running across ten European countries and allow connections with global import routes.

The figure below shows the envisioned network including several dotted lines to mark “possible additional routes”, including import routes from the North Sea (Norway and the UK), Ukraine, Greece, Northern Africa and Russia.


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