Hydrogen and geopolitics: the boom H2 in Germany could mean for Russia

A hydrogen economy will hit the traditional suppliers of oil and gas. But they can be involved in the implementation of “green technologies”. The German research centers SWP and EWI have suggestions.

Why Germany and the European Union lately so much talk about hydrogen and the hydrogen economy? Because, on the one hand, in Europe and in Asia – Japan, South Korea, China, after years of research and development is ripe or just ripening now a variety of technology applications in H2.

On the other hand, because these technologies, most of them are harmless in the context of the increasing struggle against global warming has significantly increased the demand. In the framework of the Paris climate agreement the EU has committed itself to substantially reduce emissions of greenhouse gas CO2, and the widespread introduction of hydrogen technology is considered as one of the main ways of achieving goals.

“Green hydrogen” instead of oil, gas and coal

It is not only and not so much about cars and trucks on hydrogen fuel. In Europe, especially in Germany, in the foreground rather other aspects such as Power to gas (P2G), the technology of producing “green hydrogen” from water by electrolysis with the use of renewable energy sources (RES), the use of such environmentally friendly H2 as storage of excess renewable energy as fuel in the production of electricity and heat, as fuel for trains, as an industrial raw material.

For the metallurgical, chemical, oil refining and other industrial production of “green hydrogen” is designed to replace the various processes, the H2, which is currently produced from fossil hydrocarbons, e.g. natural gas, while CO2 to the atmosphere.

In 2019 in the different countries of Europe have already implemented a number of projects on the use of hydrogen instead of oil, gas and coal. The pandemic coronavirus topic of hydrogen for a few months left on the back burner, but now returned, and, it seems, is of even more interest. This is due to the fact that the consequences of the pandemic in different countries and overall in the EU are preparing a giant economic stimulus programs, and there is an obvious effort to use the allocated funds for the development of the most innovative, advanced and environmentally friendly technologies.

H 2 is needed for the decarbonization of the economy

So it is highly symptomatic that during the month of may, while in Berlin the German government, according to media reports, worked on the national hydrogen strategy, the publication of which was awaited at the end of last year, the Union operating in the market of Germany operators of gas pipelines FNB Gas has submitted a plan of transfer by 2030 of the German gas pipeline system for transportation of hydrogen.

At the same time from two respected research center has published studies on various aspects of the widespread introduction of H2. Meanwhile, the scientists of the Institute for the study of energy Economics at the University of Cologne (Energiewirtschaftliches Institut, EWI) focused more on technological issues, while the experts of the Berlin Foundation science and politics (SWP), which advises the government and Parliament of Germany as well as the bodies of the EU on foreign policy issues, examined the “International German hydrogen measurement policy”.

Both of the author team emphasize the various possibilities of the use of H2. “Hydrogen due to the numerous options of its production, transportation, storage and use is a unique energy source for decarbonizing the various sectors of the economy”, – States, for example, the Cologne scientists. Under decarbonisation refers to reducing the use of fossil hydrocarbons, up to complete refusal from coal, oil and natural gas.

Germany depends on imports of energy and raw materials

At the same time, EWI urges not to focus solely on the electrolysis, and obtaining a “green hydrogen”, as used especially at the initial stages of development of hydrogen economy, various technologies for H2 production. Including to produce it from natural gas without release of CO2 to the atmosphere.

In any case, and then the EWI experts and SWP are United in their assessments of Germany is not enough own resources to create a hydrogen economy. Germany will have to implement the large-scale import of electricity or for the production of “green hydrogen”, or himself, either natural gas or have already received from it various options “not green” H2, it is noted in the Cologne study. In any case, the German hydrogen strategy will be economic and foreign policy implications, and prevents the authors from Berlin.

In the EWI believe that the purchase of large amounts of electricity from its European neighbors is unlikely, but the import of “green hydrogen” from the EU, with significant potential for renewable energy development, they are considered quite promising.

“Hydrogen could be delivered to Germany, adding it to the gas in existing pipelines, repurpose pipelines and in liquefied or chemically-bound state in the courts or by railway”, – stated in the study. Besides, in the future it would be possible to, for example, from North African countries such as Algeria and Morocco, or from States in the Middle East now actively developing renewable energy.

EWI for the import of “blue” and “turquoise” hydrogen

It is possible to EWI also consider manufacturing in Germany from imported natural gas the so-called “blue” and “turquoise” hydrogen, obtained by, respectively, the steam reforming or pyrolysis of methane with subsequent capture and storage of CO2.

More preferred Cologne scientists see it, however, imports of ready-made “blue” and “turquoise” H2 produced in countries that produce natural gas. However, Russia as a possible partner in this case they don’t seem to consider, as it is in the EWI study is not mentioned.

A different approach – the experts of the SWP. In one Chapter of his study entitled “Hydrogen geopolitics” at first, they note that “for obvious loser” energy transition to renewable energy and hydrogen “refer to the oil and gas industry and rich oil and gas country.”

SWP urges to engage Russia in energy transformation

At the same time, “due to its experience of handling gases and their liquefaction” such countries could become “important players in the building using the H2 chains of creation of value.” Hydrogen, experts say SWP can open the oil powers new sources of income: “This is important from the point of view of foreign and security policy, as it will prevent the destabilization of certain countries and entire regions.”

“From the point of view of climate policy would also be quite rational to engage Russia, Saudi Arabia and similar States to energy transformation. To give these countries the prospect in a climate neutral energy system – means a chance at the triple dividend climate policies, using the potential of hydrogen and foreign policy”, – convinced its readers in the political circles of Germany the experts of the SWP.

In other words, they encourage them to actively engage Russia in the implementation of H2 technologies and the development of a global hydrogen economy.