Ukraine's state gas pipeline operator is ready to join an ambitious hydrogen-focused initiative that would see it convert its existing gas pipelines as well as building new lines as European countries increasingly target carbon-neutral economies.

Operator GTS Ukrainy said it is “talking to other gas pipeline operators to work out technical, regulatory and economic issues” of adapting and upgrading its gas network to transport hydrogen for export in the event it joins the European Hydrogen Backbone.

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The European Hydrogen Backbone is a working group made up of European gas infrastructure companies — including Italy's Snam, Spain's Enagas and the UK's National Grid — that is planning a pan-European dedicated hydrogen transport infrastructure.

Ukraine has a large network of legacy gas pipelines that run across the country and are capable of transporting an estimated 140 billion cubic metres of Russian gas to European destinations.

However, the country risks large segments of the network becoming obsolete if and when Russia's Gazprom halts the flow of Russian gas when all subsea export pipelines to Europe — including the controversial Nord Stream 2 project across the Baltic Sea — come into operation.

Cheering new supporter

Speaking on a recent webinar organised by European Hydrogen Backbone, representatives from gas pipeline operators from Eastern Europe cheered Ukraine’s readiness to consider gas pipeline conversion options and the possibility of producing domestic hydrogen for export to Europe.

Under the discussed scheme, existing gas pipelines in Slovakia and the Czech Republic will serve as transit route for hydrogen from Ukraine and south-east Europe to Germany and the rest of the European Union bloc countries after 2035.

Ukraine's plans would involve blue and green hydrogen.

Meanwhile, a hydrogen highway in Poland will help to integrate offshore wind generation in the north of Europe with hydrogen storage and transportation and enable the decarbonisation of coal-based regions in Eastern Europe, according to Piotr Kus, deputy director at Poland’s gas pipeline operator, Gaz-System.

By 2030, Poland expects to see 2 gigawatts of installed electrolyser capacity to produce hydrogen and some 5.9GW of offshore wind capacity.

“We see a great potential in co-operation” among gas pipeline operators to join forces to prepare for hydrogen transportation, Kus said.

Austria's ambitious target

Austria is planning to reach carbon neutrality by 2040, 10 years ahead of similar targets adopted by most of its neighbours.

That signals Ukraine and Hungary as potential transit countries for the transport of hydrogen to Austria via repurposed gas pipelines, according to Gabor Szokodi, business development advisor to Hungary’s pipeline operator, FGSZ.

In the long term, hydrogen supplies could also be sourced from North Africa and shipped to the region via Italy and Spain, he said.

Interim blending options

By 2030, most existing pipelines in Europe are expected to continue transporting gas, meaning upgrades to enable "blending and deblending" will be required for hydrogen transport together with gas, Szokodi said.

The task of converting pipelines to ship hydrogen will be helped by the availability of several parallel lines running in a single corridor, which will allow the conversion work to take place in stages, limiting the impact on throughput capacity, he said.

The idea of working jointly on creating common hydrogen-transporting infrastructure is gaining traction among European gas transmission operators, according to representatives of European Hydrogen Backbone.

As of April, the initiative has been backed by 23 operators, covering 19 European member states, Switzerland and the UK, as compared with just 11 operators last year.

By 2040, the initiative envisages the operation of a hydrogen transportation network in Europe spanning for almost 40,000 kilometres, with 70% of it consisting of re-purposed gas lines and the remaining from newly built pipelines.

The total cost is estimated at between €43 billion and €81 billion (between $52 billion and $97 billion).