The Largest Barrier to Hydrogen May Be Transporting It
Read time: 3 minutes
Hydrogen, a feedstock for many industrial processes, will enable the green energy transition due to its capability for “sector coupling.” But while hydrogen supplies may be plentiful, much of the challenges in incorporating this more sustainable fuel into the world’s supply will be in transporting it.
In specific regions of the world, costs of hydrogen will be close to $2 per kilogram within the next few years. That doesn’t include transportation costs, which can add another dollar per kilogram of hydrogen. In Europe, it will be slightly higher, but we also have to consider the concept of energy independence.
Roughly 70% of the cost to produce affordable green hydrogen comes from electricity prices. For example, sun yields in the Gulf region or western Australia are better than in northern Europe. There are good wind conditions at north or south shorelines such as Patagonia. But in most cases, the coupled industry is far away. We have to consider how to transport an ultralight molecule to where it will be utilized.
On the road, it’s relatively easy. Hydrogen can be delivered in a compressed gas form, but only 500 kilograms can be transported in a 40-ton truck. This is a hazardous material, after all. In large land masses such as Europe, green and blue hydrogen can be transported through pipelines, delivering roughly 10 times more power than an electrical line can deliver. It’s always better to transport molecules, essentially hydrogen, than electricity. The advantage of a pipeline is simple: you have high up-front capital expenses, but the operating expenses are low. There are plans to repurpose existing natural gas grids step by step for the use of hydrogen. In Germany, for example, there’s an existing hydrogen pipeline grid of roughly 1,000 kilometers connecting chemical industries.
Of course, pipelines are restricted to a mainland — connecting Australia to Europe is out of scope for any pipeline. Let’s consider Japan, an isolated location where 94% of the energy is imported via the sea. The country is currently thinking about how to import green and blue hydrogen. It can be delivered in pure form, meaning you have to cool it down to minus 253 degrees C to liquefy it for transport. But with this procedure, you lose one-third of the energy. Other concepts are under discussion. One of them is to transport using ammonia, at minus 60 degrees, so it liquefies even earlier and hence is easier to transport. This way can use existing transport vessels. A third method is liquid organic hydrogen carrier.
These three concepts — pipelines, cooled hydrogen via sea, and LOHC — are currently competing, and it’s still an open race.
There also exist concepts to blend hydrogen with natural gas. As a rough rule, the production of green or gray hydrogen after production using natural gas is roughly $2 per kilogram at the start. That means if you add mixed hydrogen to the natural gas grid, you degrade the value of hydrogen to its heating value only, ending up at $1 per kilogram. If you can keep it in its pure state and use it as a feedstock, it’ll stay in the range of around $2 per kilogram.
Hurdles always existed for hydrogen, but what’s changed now are the incentives to incorporate hydrogen into the energy supply. The first hype wave around hydrogen, in the 1990s, was concentrated on automotive propulsion and local emissions. What is different now is the commitment of many countries to reduce their CO2 footprint, and hydrogen is a good solution until we fully transition to renewables.
About Manfred Waidhas
Manfred Waidhas is an independent consultant in the energy industry, advising on the hydrogen technologies, power-to-X, and energy storage space. Previously, Manfred was Chief Technology Officer and Head of Technology & Innovation in Siemens’ Hydrogen Solutions Division (2015-2019). Before this, Manfred was Chief Executive Officer of Siemens’ Hydrogen Solutions (2015-2015) and Program Manager of Energy Storage at Siemens (2005-2010).
This energy industry article is adapted from the GLG webcast “Hydrogen — Latest Trends and Challenges.” If you would like to speak with experts like Manfred Waidhas, or any of our approximately 1 million Network Members, please contact us.