Formidable plans to construct a €2.5bn hydrogen pipeline underneath the ocean between Spain and France are exposing divisions amongst companies over one of the best ways to move power from southern Europe to the continent’s northern industrial heartland.

The EU and a few large power corporations are betting on “inexperienced” hydrogen — produced from water utilizing renewable power — as a long-term answer to pure fuel shortages and a strategy to speed up cuts in greenhouse fuel emissions.

However whereas France, Spain and Portugal are backing the long-distance export of the clean-burning gasoline through undersea pipeline, some enterprise leaders argue that it’s electrical energy that ought to be exported so it may be used to make hydrogen near the place will probably be used, notably German industrial hubs.

Inexperienced hydrogen’s potential is unproven as it isn’t but produced on a commercially helpful scale. Nevertheless, advocates say it is going to ultimately be burnt in massive volumes to provide power to run factories, vans and ships, and also will function a chemical feedstock and power retailer.

If they’re proper, the controversy over transporting the fuel or its derivatives round Europe will go an extended strategy to figuring out which of the businesses investing in hydrogen revenue essentially the most — and which lose out.

Cepsa, Spain’s second-biggest oil firm by income, has aligned itself with the Barcelona-Marseille pipeline plans. It struck a deal with the port of Rotterdam in September to create a “inexperienced hydrogen hall” to carry the gasoline from Spain — which desires to grow to be Europe’s photo voltaic superpower — to northern Europe.

The hall will initially, from 2027, be a transport route as Cepsa plans to transform inexperienced hydrogen into ammonia then transport it by boat from the Spanish port of Algeciras. However Maarten Wetselaar, Cepsa chief government, advised the Monetary Instances the corporate would “completely” use the undersea pipeline, which is because of be accomplished by 2030. “When the pipeline is there and sufficiently big, it’s straightforward for us to scale up,” he stated.

The inexperienced hydrogen will come from deliberate Cepsa vegetation in Campo de Gibraltar and Palos de la Frontera that may produce as much as 300,000 tonnes of gasoline a 12 months. They are going to price the corporate a complete of €3bn and be powered by photo voltaic and wind energy amenities on which it is going to spend one other €2bn. Hydrogen might be carried from the vegetation to Barcelona by a home pipeline community nonetheless being deliberate by Enagás, Spain’s nationwide fuel grid operator. To achieve Germany by pipeline, France would additionally have to construct a community operating north from Marseille.

The EU goals to provide 10mn tonnes of renewable hydrogen by 2030 and match it with the identical quantity of imports, in keeping with plans for REPowerEU, an power transition fund.

Map showing Southern Europe’s hydrogen pipeline plans – France, Spain and Portugal have agreed on the first cross-border links in a hoped-for energy corridor

Iberdrola, Spain’s largest power firm, can also be investing in hydrogen manufacturing however has taken an opposing place on the undersea pipeline.

“Probably the most environment friendly strategy to produce hydrogen is regionally, transporting the inexperienced electrical energy wanted to make it from elsewhere, if obligatory,” stated Ignacio Galán, government chair.

The argument in opposition to hydrogen pipelines is that they might price greater than pure fuel pipelines and entail large engineering and security challenges as a result of the know-how for long-distance transportation of the gasoline, which is extremely flammable, doesn’t but exist.

Iberdrola’s investments assume hydrogen might be used primarily by heavy trade close to the place it’s made. It owns one of many few amenities in Spain that’s already producing the gasoline, albeit on a trial foundation. The set up in Puertollano, Castile-La Mancha, features a 100MW photo voltaic array that powers an electrolyser to separate hydrogen from water, then sends it to an adjoining plant the place one other firm, Fertiberia, makes use of it to make fertiliser.

For Germany, Iberdrola’s imaginative and prescient dictates that one of the best ways to safe hydrogen provides could be to provide the gasoline itself utilizing electrical energy generated by renewables. This might embody energy despatched by cable throughout France from Spain, which desires to capitalise on its sunny climate to provide low cost, plentiful renewable energy.

“That is why we want extra electrical energy interconnections and extra reinforcement of electrical energy grids,” stated Galán, who has beforehand echoed widespread frustration in Spain over the nation’s restricted cross-border hyperlinks with France, which has proven little curiosity in having extra.

One other sceptic on long-distance hydrogen exports is Lluís Noguera, chief government of X-Elio, one in all Spain’s longest-standing solar energy builders. Whereas he believes renewable energy is important in producing hydrogen, he says not sufficient area to construct energy technology amenities for electrolysers is offered subsequent to most metal and cement vegetation or refineries.

Even when there have been room, the local weather of Europe’s industrial heartland shouldn’t be conducive to solar energy, though it’s higher for wind. He cites an X-Elio mannequin that calculated the typical price of manufacturing solar energy at €40-50 per megawatt hour in Spain however €60-70/MWh in Belgium, which is best positioned to provide Germany.

As a substitute, Noguera stated, electrical energy ought to be produced the place the solar shines then despatched through the grid to industrial websites so “the renewable energy comes from the place it is sensible to provide it and the hydrogen comes from the place it is sensible to devour it”.

Hydrogen export advocates counter that will probably be cheaper to maneuver hydrogen than electrical energy. It will price €5/MWh to move the fuel in a 1,000km pipeline versus €12/MWh to ship the equal electrical energy through an overhead AC energy line, in keeping with the European Hydrogen Spine, a gaggle of pro-pipeline power operators. In addition they say that extra power is misplaced in transmitting electrical energy than in piping hydrogen.

Cepsa’s Wetselaar stated the primary flaw within the argument for exporting electrical energy was that Europe’s grid was “undersized” and seemed set to stay so. It won’t have the capability to move plenty of energy to provide hydrogen, particularly as soon as demand for electrical autos accelerates, as a result of it’s a lot tougher to safe environmental approval for high-voltage cables than it’s for subterranean pipelines.

“It’s a bit theoretical, as a result of governments would like to spend money on the grid however they’ll’t get the permits,” he stated.

Map by Liz Faunce


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