Norway and Germany have announced a plan to build a large-scale hydrogen pipeline between the two countries by the end of the decade, initially transporting blue hydrogen produced from natural gas in conjunction with carbon capture and storage but later transitioning to green hydrogen produced with renewables.

Norwegian oil company Equinor, which is 67% owned by the Norwegian state, also announced plans to send an initial 2 gigawatts of blue hydrogen through the pipeline by 2030, as part of a new strategic partnership with German utility RWE, rising to 10 GW by 2038.

The two companies will also collaborate on building 3 GW of “hydrogen-ready” gas-fired power plants in Germany by 2030, which will use blue hydrogen purchased from Equinor by RWE and co-operate on building offshore wind-powered green hydrogen projects in Norway.

“In order to realise the fastest possible high-volumes of hydrogen with zero or low-emissions, we will jointly plan the use of hydrogen produced from natural gas with carbon capture and storage (blue hydrogen) for a transition period,” said a joint statement from the Norwegian and German governments.

“In this context, we will ensure environmental and climate integrity by establishing for example the highest possible standards for carbon capture and storage. Both countries aim at scaling up the production of renewable energy quickly, a prerequisite for production of green hydrogen. Green hydrogen can subsequently be phased in into the common transport infrastructure.”

The statement adds that a joint feasibility study into the pipeline will be conducted by Norwegian state-owned gas distributor Gassco and the German Energy Agency “to assess large-scale transport of hydrogen from Norway to Germany, and CO2 transport from Germany to Norway”, with the results to be presented in the spring of 2023.

In a press conference in Oslo, where he was leading a German trade delegation, German Minister for Economic Affairs & Climate Action Robert Habeck stated that his Green Party is dropping some of its objections to blue hydrogen, which he now believes is necessary to quickly reduce carbon emissions.

Better in than out

“As long as we have no other alternative, we can’t just ‘wait and see’ any longer. If you ask me, I'd rather put CO2 in the ground than in the atmosphere.”

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store added that developing a hydrogen value chain with a major emphasis on offshore wind, and CCS, two or three years ago “would have been really quite science fiction-like”.

“But as somebody said, ‘if it isn't science fiction, it isn't real in these times’.”

Due to stringent national regulations, Norway has the lowest upstream methane emissions in the world, which means it is technically able to produce blue hydrogen with very low levels of greenhouse gas emissions, although some CO2 will still be emitted in the production process.

“Norway wants to actively contribute to the development of the hydrogen market in Germany and the EU,” said a government statement.

“Both countries recognise that there are substantial challenges on the way to build value chains and a functioning European hydrogen market, both on the producer and recipient side. Norway and Germany will seek to accelerate the necessary framework for a functioning European hydrogen market.”

RWE and Equinor’s “hydrogen-ready” gas-fired peaker plants will initially use 100% natural gas supplied by the Norwegian company, which will later be replaced by blue hydrogen and eventually green hydrogen, the partners explained.

“As offshore hydrogen production plants get connected over time, green hydrogen will gradually complement and ultimately replace its blue counterpart in imports to Germany,” they said.

“Green hydrogen from RWE’s and Equinor’s joint projects will fire the joint CCGT [combined-cycle gas turbine] fleet to complete its decarbonisation journey.

“In addition, RWE and Equinor will continue to explore joint investments in offshore-wind-only projects in Norway and Germany as well as green hydrogen production in Norway.”

Germany and Norway also announced on Thursday that they have agreed to enter a strategic partnership on other climate-related matters, including renewable energy and offshore wind, CCS, batteries, green shipping, raw materials and related strategic value chains, and the microelectronics required for many green technologies.

(This article first appeared in Upstream's sister publication Recharge on 5 January, 2022).

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