Transmission and storage
NortH2 has set out to produce, transport and store large volumes of hydrogen. But the question is how to get the hydrogen from the production site, i.e. out in the North Sea in our case, to the place where it will be consumed. There are various ways to do this. Which is the most cost-efficient way depends on the volumes of hydrogen transported and the distance over which the hydrogen is transported, as well as on specific storage facilities (not every country has empty salt caverns readily available).
For small volumes of hydrogen, transport under pressure in cylinders is a logical choice. Or it can be transported in gas cylinders or trailers with stacked long cylinders of compressed hydrogen, known as tube trailers. But when it comes to the kind of volume that NortH2 has set out to produce, road transport will be inadequate. We are going to need sturdy pipelines for that. And that is where the current national pipeline infrastructure and storage capacity come in.
At the moment, there are already various hydrogen transport pipelines operational in the Netherlands. Air Products, for example, a company in industrial gases, operates a hydrogen pipeline network in the Port of Rotterdam industrial area. This network delivers hydrogen to local industry through some 140km of pipelines. Another company, Air Liquide, operates a hydrogen network that connects the Port of Rotterdam to northern France, while they also have around 1,000km of pipelines in Germany’s Ruhr area. These hydrogen pipelines, however, have a much smaller diameter than the high-pressure gas pipelines in the Netherlands and Germany. In the Dutch province of Zeeland, a 12km pipeline links up chemical companies Dow Chemical and Yara. Initially used for the transmission of natural gas, this former gas pipeline has since late 2018 been used successfully for hydrogen. This just goes to show that the switch from natural gas to hydrogen gas can be arranged relatively quickly and safely.
When looking at the locations where the hydrogen supply comes from and where it is needed, it is not only important that the hydrogen has to get to the right place, but also that it has to get there at the right time, on demand. This requires efficient storage as an indispensable part of an efficient and reliable infrastructure. Luckily, we can store large volumes of hydrogen in empty salt caverns. In the northern part of the Netherlands, there is a very thick layer of salt in the Earth’s crust, and salt caverns are already being used to store natural gas there. To provide all areas with the right amount of hydrogen at the right time, we need to repurpose these empty salt caverns for the storage of green hydrogen.
The costs of realising basic infrastructure with national coverage are estimated at around 1.5 billion euros. This amount includes the costs of converting parts of the natural gas network, in particular the compressor stations and laying some new pipelines. For the sake of comparison, the construction of a new national hydrogen grid with completely new pipelines would cost around 4 times as much.
The Netherlands and Germany can jointly build a unique energy infrastructure made up of the power grid and the gas grid that is partly used for the transmission of hydrogen. These are networks that reinforce each other and together ensure a reliable, affordable and sustainable supply of energy.