EC JRC finds delivery of large amounts of green hydrogen over long distances could be cost-effective
The European Commission’s Joint Research Center (JRC) published a policy brief showing that delivery of large amounts of renewable hydrogen over long distances could be cost-effective. This finding is important because access to sufficient amounts of renewable hydrogen at low cost is essential for achieving a climate neutral Europe by 2050.
Renewable hydrogen is an energy carrier produced from renewable sources such as wind and solar and can be used to replace fossil-based hydrogen for industrial processes or as alternative fuel in the transport sector, especially in heavy-duty and long-distance trucks, buses, ships and planes.
Renewable and low-carbon hydrogen cannot currently compete in terms of production costs with fossil-based hydrogen, whereas hydrogen production must become fully decarbonised in order to contribute to climate neutrality goals. Importing hydrogen from places with cheaper renewable energy resources could be an alternative to local production, but would result in higher transport costs.
For its transport, hydrogen is either compressed, liquefied or converted into a hydrogen carrier such as ammonia or liquid organic hydrogen carriers. The “packaging” of the hydrogen together with the transport distance, the amount to be imported, final use, and availability of infrastructure defines the final cost of the hydrogen delivery.
Therefore, said the JRC, it is important to understand under which conditions transporting renewable hydrogen across the European territory or even over longer distances makes economic sense.
To investigate which renewable hydrogen delivery pathways are favorable in terms of energy demand and costs, JRC developed a database and an analytical tool to assess each step of the pathways, and used it to assess two case studies.
Case A is based on the delivery of 1 million tons of renewable hydrogen per year to a single industrial customer, via a simple transport pathway, through a dedicated pipeline or shipping route. The transport distance considered in case A is 2,500 km.
Case B intends to model a more complex delivery route. 100,000 tons of renewable hydrogen per year are delivered to a network of 270 hydrogen refueling stations (HRS), each with a dispensing capacity of 1tH2/day. The first leg of the transport route is similar to case A (2,500 km), then hydrogen is further distributed (within a radius of 500 km) through a combination of railway and road transport. In this case, the hydrogen delivered at the refueling station should comply with the hydrogen purity and pressure levels required for mobility applications. (These are higher than for industrial uses.)
Findings. The current lack of hydrogen infrastructure challenges the delivery of large amounts of hydrogen over long distances. One of the options to enable long-distance transport of hydrogen is the repurposing of existing natural gas pipelines for hydrogen use. For long-distance transport within the EU, this is the most competitive hydrogen delivery solution, if available.
Chemical carriers as ammonia or liquid organic hydrogen carriers (LOHC) become more economically competitive with longer delivery distances, opening up import options from suppliers located, for example, in Chile or Australia.
There is no single optimal hydrogen delivery solution across every transport scenario. The most cost effective way to deliver renewable hydrogen depends on distance, amount, final use, and whether there is infrastructure already available.
For distances compatible with the European territory, compressed and liquefied hydrogen solutions, and especially compressed hydrogen pipelines, offer lower costs than chemical carriers do. The repurposing of existing natural gas pipelines for hydrogen use is expected to significantly lower the delivery cost, making the pipeline option even more competitive in the future. By contrast, chemical carriers become more competitive the longer the delivery distance (due to their lower transport costs) and open up import options from suppliers located, for example, in Chile or Australia.
Unpacking chemical carriers accounts for a significant share of their total cost, mostly due to the processes’ high energy demand and the fact that unpacking plants are likely to be placed in locations with a relatively high electricity price. Optimization of unpacking processes has a key role to play in increasing the competitiveness of the chemical carrier pathways.—“Assessment of Hydrogen Delivery Options”
Hydrogen delivery costs for a simple (point to point) transport route, for 1 Mt H2 and low electricity cost scenario. Source: JRC.
The policy brief recommends support to study the feasibility of this repurposing and improve and upscale current technologies involved in the hydrogen delivery chain.
The policy brief also recommends that the definition, certification and labelling of renewable hydrogen should include the full delivery chain, to ensure accurate tracking of the emissions associated with large-scale hydrogen delivery chains.
Background. In July 2020, the European Commission published “A Hydrogen Strategy for a climate-neutral Europe”. This policy communication sets out a vision of how the EU can turn clean hydrogen into a viable solution to decarbonise different sectors over time, installing at least 6 GW of renewable hydrogen electrolysers in the EU by 2024 and 40 GW of renewable hydrogen electrolyzers by 2030.