Amidst Europe’s “zero net emission” goal and Great Britain’s aspiration for energy independence, the country has decided to accelerate its pursuit of hydrogen (H2). This involves revising its targets for renewable production and increasing its ambitions for injecting H2 into the network.
The use of hydrogen (H2) in Great Britain, and other places, remains relatively unknown, but this could change soon. The goal is to replace the fossil fuels currently being used in the British network with cleaner hydrogen. As the National Gas director of the network operator, National Gas, highlights, “on a winter day, the energy that passes through the gas network is seven times greater than that which goes through the electricity network alone. We need to find ways to decarbonize this”. Pilot projects have already been conducted, and a large-scale initiative is on the horizon, with plans to inject between 2% and 5% hydrogen into the network starting in 2025.
It’s worth noting that hydrogen has already been mixed with fossil fuels in the distribution networks, such as “city gas”. However, the proportion of hydrogen used has been very low – around 0.1% in Great Britain – and it has been produced from coal or oil, resulting in a high carbon footprint. This is also the case for the majority of hydrogen produced in Europe today.
Hydrogen boilers soon compulsory?
The concept of injecting hydrogen into gas networks will only be effective if the hydrogen is produced in an environmentally sustainable manner, such as through water electrolysis using renewable sources of electricity. Last year, Great Britain called for an increase in its “green” hydrogen production target from 5 to 10 gigawatts (GW) by 2030, with offshore wind playing a significant role in achieving this goal.
On the other hand, from 2026, boilers that run on hydrogen could become mandatory in new constructions in the country. However, the combustion of hydrogen generates nitrogen oxides (NOX) which can have a considerable environmental impact, although it does not produce carbon. National Gas has confirmed that current appliances can run on a 20% hydrogen mixture, a figure that many operators aim to achieve by 2028, and that Germany is already testing.
Europe organizes the transport of hydrogen
Since last autumn, households have been supplied with a mixture of fossil gas and renewable hydrogen, up to 8% for now. However, by the end of February, this will increase to 20%, and then 30% by mid-March. The goal is to demonstrate the possibility of entirely replacing fossil gas with 100% green hydrogen.
GRTGAZ, the primary operator of the French network, has also conducted pilot projects and is working hard to develop a transportation network exclusively for hydrogen. A 100-kilometer pipeline project is currently underway in Alsace, with connections planned to Germany and Switzerland. While the French fossil gas network has a length of 32,500 km, the hydrogen network is expected to extend to 28,000 km by 2030 and 53,000 km by 2040.
German companies have recently announced their plan to convert high-pressure gas pipelines for transporting hydrogen, which entails risks of increased leakage and the need to validate material resistance, among other challenges, over a corridor of more than 1,000 km from the Baltic Sea to the south of the country by 2025. The aim is to achieve a capacity equivalent to 20 nuclear reactors. The network was originally meant to serve Germany, but the objective is to connect it to the Danish Island of Bornholm by 2027 and add links to Austria, the Czech Republic, Poland, and France from 2030.