Germany floats draft hydrogen strategy ahead of EU Presidency

However, since Germany will not be able to supply itself with the necessary amount of renewable energies for hydrogen production in the near future, "a large part of the future demand for CO2-free or CO2-neutral hydrogen will have to be imported", the strategy states. [shutterstock] [Alexandros Michailidis/ Shutterstock]

Germany’s draft hydrogen strategy envisages the use of CO2-free gas for the industry and transport sector, as well as millions for research. Under the draft plan, a large part of the country’s hydrogen will be purchased from abroad. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Last summer, Economics Minister Peter Altmaier (CDU) announced that Germany wanted to become a global leader in hydrogen technologies.

This week, he finally circulated the first draft national hydrogen strategy.

Under the draft, circulated among several ministries and seen by EURACTIV, at least 20% of Germany’s hydrogen is to be produced from renewable energies by 2030 – so-called Green Hydrogen. Three to five gigawatts of electrolysers are to be built for this purpose.

Altmaier’s draft strategy provides for the massive promotion of hydrogen in a whole range of sectors – including transport, a decision which runs counter to the will of Germany’s environment ministry.

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The world’s first hydrogen-powered passenger train service began operating in Germany on Sunday (16 September), while EU ministers debated the future potential of the clean fuel at an informal summit in Austria this week.

Infrastructure

EU renewable targets for transport will therefore be implemented and even exceeded: By 2030, the mandatory share of renewable fuels in transport, including hydrogen, will be increased to 20% instead of 14%.

At the same time, the necessary petrol station infrastructure is to be promoted with €3.4 billion. Funding for so-called “real laboratories” selected last year, in which the production and application of hydrogen are to be tested on an industrial scale, will also be increased. In addition to the €400 million already provided, €650 million are planned for over four years.

Yet, plans to create a pure hydrogen network are also underway. “We are working at full speed on concrete technical and network planning solutions to ensure that the integration can succeed,” said Ralph Bahke, the chairman of gas transmission system operators association.

On Tuesday, the association first presented a vision for a 5,900 km hydrogen network, which is to consist for 90% on pipelines and storage tanks already in existence today.

Hydrogen: A priority for Germany’s EU presidency

Since the establishment of a hydrogen market is a “joint European project”, this will be one of the priorities of Germany’s upcoming EU Council presidency, according to the hydrogen strategy.

The European Commission is currently working on a gas package for the EU, in which hydrogen is expected to play a key role. The package should be presented in 2021, on the heels of Germany’s EU Presidency.

Germany will use its EU presidency to promote so-called “sector coupling” between gas and electricity networks, as well as the development of an EU internal market for hydrogen. Initiatives will also possibly include a list of EU-funded Important Project of Common European Interest (IPCEI) specifically for hydrogen, similar to existing plans launched recently for battery research.

The EU’s draft industrial strategy also mentions public-private partnerships to promote decarbonisation technologies, for example in the steel sector, where hydrogen could replace gas as a clean energy alternative.

At present, the industry still uses so-called “Grey Hydrogen” produced from natural gas. Green hydrogen from purely renewable electricity is more expensive and extremely energy-intensive, with energy losses reaching up to three-fourths.

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Importing hydrogen from abroad

In order to provide sufficient renewable electricity for electrolysis, the strategy foresees using electricity from offshore wind farms in the North Sea.

This also means cooperation with neighbouring EU member states will have to be stepped up. The first project of this kind is to start in the Belgian port city of Ostend in 2022. With the help of a hydrogen plant, surplus wind energy will be fed into the district heating network.

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However, since Germany will not be able to supply itself with the necessary amount of renewable energies for hydrogen production in the near future, “a large part of the future demand for CO2-free or CO2-neutral hydrogen will have to be imported,” the strategy states.

To this end, “energy partnerships” are to be concluded with other countries where, for example, there is a lot of sunshine. According to reports from Der Tagesspiegel, Germany has already signed a cooperation agreement with Morocco on methanol production from hydrogen, for example.

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Huge amounts of synthetic fuels generated from renewable energies will be required to fully decarbonise the German economy, according to industry association BDI, which eyes yearly imports of 340 terawatt hours (TW/h) by 2050 – the equivalent of Germany’s entire power fleet.

Grey hydrogen

Altmaier’s hydrogen plan also explicitly includes conventional hydrogen produced from natural gas, a strategy which the EU is also pursuing.

In November, EU Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans announced that “if we use our technology wisely, a combination of fossil and hydrogen could be used in the network”, noting that CO2-free hydrogen is not a panacea.

“Fossil fuels will also be part of the mix, we have to be realistic,” he added.

Timmermans sees 'pivotal role for hydrogen' in meeting EU climate goals

The European Commission’s upcoming vice president for the Green Deal received a standing ovation at a forum in Brussels last week after he declared, “I see a pivotal role for hydrogen” in Europe’s efforts to achieve its climate goals.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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