Observing the renewable energy transition from a European perspective

European Hydrogen Backbone

Hydrogen backbone 2040

11 European gas infrastructure companies have drafted a plan to construct a European Hydrogen Backbone, in line with the renewable energy transition efforts of the European Union. Most pipelines already exist, but need to be retrofitted for the conversion from natural gas towards hydrogen.

From the executive summary:

In the transition to a net zero-emission EU energy system, hydrogen and biomethane will play a major role in a smart combination with renewable electricity, using Europe’s well-developed existing energy infrastructure. For hydrogen to develop to its full potential, there must be a tangible perspective towards developing a wellconnected European hydrogen market over time.

A rapid scale up of renewable power for direct electricity demand will also provide a basis for renewable green hydrogen supply, especially from the late 2020s onwards. In the medium to long term, most hydrogen will be renewable hydrogen. Yet before cheap renewable electricity has scaled up sufficiently, low carbon blue hydrogen will be useful to accelerate decarbonisation from the mid-2020s onwards. This low carbon hydrogen will partly be based on applying CCS to existing grey hydrogen production at industrial clusters.

Large-scale hydrogen consumption will require a well-developed hydrogen transport infrastructure. This paper presents the European Hydrogen Backbone (“the EHB”): a vision for a truly European undertaking, connecting hydrogen supply and demand from north to south and west to east. Analysing this for ten European countries (Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland), we see a network gradually emerging from the mid-2020s onwards. This leads to an initial 6,800 km pipeline network by 2030, connecting hydrogen valleys. The planning for this first phase should start in the early 2020s. In a second and third phase, the infrastructure further expands by 2035 and stretches into all directions by 2040 with a length almost 23,000 km. Likely additional routes through countries not (yet) covered by the EHB initiative are included as dotted lines in the 2040 map. Further network development is expected up to 2050. Ultimately, two parallel gas transport networks will emerge: a dedicated hydrogen and a dedicated (bio)methane network. The hydrogen backbone as presented in this paper will transport hydrogen produced from (offshore) wind and solar-PV within Europe and also allows for hydrogen imports from outside Europe.

European gas infrastructure consists of pipelines with different sizes, from 20 inch in diameter to 48 inch and above. The hydrogen backbone, mainly based on converted existing pipelines, will reflect this diversity. Converted 36- and 48-inch pipelines, commonly in use for long-distance transport of gas within the EU, can transport around 7 resp. 13 GW of hydrogen per pipeline (at lower heating value¹) across Europe, which provides an indication of the vast potential of the gas infrastructure to take up its role in the future zero-emission EU energy system. And this is not even the highest capacity technically possible; from our analyses, we have concluded that it is more attractive to operate hydrogen pipelines at less than their maximum capacity, leading to substantial savings on investment in compressors and on the cost of operating them, including their energy consumption.

Such a dedicated European Hydrogen Backbone (2040 layout) requires an estimated total investment of €27-64 billion based on using 75% of converted natural gas pipelines connected by 25% new pipeline stretches. These costs are relatively limited in the overall context of the European energy transition and substantially lower than earlier rough estimations. The relatively wide range in the estimate is mainly due to uncertainties in (location dependent) compressor costs.

The operational cost is lower than expected as well; the amount of electricity required is around 2% of the energy content of the hydrogen transported, taken over a transport distance of 1,000 km. So, while the European Hydrogen Backbone provides competition and security of supply, costs for transport of hydrogen account for only a small part of total hydrogen costs for end users. The levelised cost is estimated to be between €0.09-0.17 per kg of hydrogen per 1000 km², allowing hydrogen to be transported cost-effectively over long distances across Europe.

This paper concludes that the cost of such a European Hydrogen Backbone can be very modest compared to the foreseen size of the hydrogen markets. That is why we now propose to launch it as a ‘first mover’, facilitating developments on the supply and demand side. European gas infrastructure companies are ready to lead and to invest in hydrogen transport to facilitate a scaling up of hydrogen, thereby being part of the solution to create a climate neutral European energy system and a European market for hydrogen. The backbone should allow for access by all interested market parties under equal terms and conditions.

Enabling the creation of a European Hydrogen Backbone has multiple implications for policy making. In its recent Hydrogen Strategy, the European Commission has already announced that it aims to ensure the full integration of hydrogen infrastructure in the infrastructure planning, including through the revision of the Trans-European Networks for Energy and the work on the Ten-Year Network Development Plans (TYNDPs). Policy making on sustainable finance, and the review of the gas legislation for competitive decarbonised gas markets will also need to play their role in enabling the long-term investments in this key European infrastructure.

This European Hydrogen Backbone is an open initiative. We invite other gas infrastructure companies from across Europe and from adjacent geographies and our associations GIE and ENTSOG to join in the thinking, to further developing the plan and expanding it into a truly pan-European undertaking. We are also looking forward to discussing our initiative with stakeholders including policy makers and with initiatives on the supply and demand side, including Hydrogen Europe’s 2 * 40 GW electrolyser plan.

As European gas infrastructure companies, we fully support the European Green Deal and we are willing to play our part in facilitating the scale up of renewable and low carbon gas. We see the European Hydrogen Backbone as a critical piece of the puzzle.

Hydrogen backbone 2030. The Netherlands and its North Sea offshore wind potential will play an initializing role in kicking off the hydrogen era in Europe.

[] – European Hydrogen Backbone, original report (10 MB, pdf)
[] – European Hydrogen Backbone plan
[] – Gas infrastructure comp. present a European Hydrogen Backbone plan
[] – Clean hydrogen needs its own infrastructure

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