Tech Insights

European Firms Float Gulf Hydrogen Pipeline Concept

July 07, 2023 by Shannon Cuthrell

An assessment from two European consultancies backs the feasibility of a green hydrogen pipeline from Qatar to Europe. 

A study from two European engineering consultancies outlines the case for a pipeline to transport low-carbon hydrogen from the Gulf region to Europe. The concept could bring 100 terawatt-hours of annual capacity, or 2.5 million tonnes, and could be scaled up according to demand.

 

An infographic of the basic blueprint of a green hydrogen pipeline system

An infographic of the basic blueprint of a green hydrogen pipeline system incorporating electrolyzers powered by wind turbines, compressors, and storage facilities. Image used courtesy of Siemens Energy

 

The study was conducted by RINA, a certification/inspection and engineering consulting firm based in Italy, and AFRY, a management and engineering consultancy in Sweden. Their proposed hydrogen pipeline would start in Qatar, run through Saudi Arabia alongside the Red Sea to reach Egypt’s Port Said, and then cross the Mediterranean Sea to Greece. From there, the supply would be distributed to hydrogen clusters in Europe. 

With abundant natural gas and renewable energy reserves already established, the Gulf region could become a significant producer of green and blue hydrogen, ammonia, and other derivatives. (Green hydrogen is produced through electrolysis and powered by renewable energy resources like wind farms, yielding little to no emissions. Blue hydrogen, derived from natural gas, is paired with carbon capture and storage.) 

The report places the cost of transporting hydrogen through the pipeline at 1.20 euros (or $1.31) per kilogram. Gulf countries could provide Europe with green and blue hydrogen at $2.95 per kilogram Levelized Cost of Delivered Hydrogen (LCODH) in the 2030s, though the price would fall to $2.51 in the following decades by 2050. 

AFRY notes that molecule transport by ship is currently the focus for exporting hydrogen and synthesis products from the Gulf to Europe. This method receives European Union subsidies but might not be efficient for bulk transport. A pipeline could be a more cost-effective and efficient option in the long run. 

 

Details of the Proposed Pipeline

RINA and AFRY outlined the proposed setup in a 13-page feasibility paper. The design would include offshore and onshore strands and at least four compressor stations spaced up to 621 miles apart. One routing path would run about 2,112 feet from Qatar to Greece, and the other would involve traversing several routes totaling 1,553 miles, from landfall in Greece to potential hydrogen usage clusters in Europe. 

 

Hydrogen pipeline

Hydrogen pipeline. Image used courtesy of Adobe Stock 
 

The report estimates that construction would likely take seven years and require $30.5 billion in capital expenses, with the Gulf-to-Greece portion costing $19.6 billion and the Greece-to-central Europe section totaling $10.9 billion. The pipes would last 40 years, and the compressors (44 with 25 megawatts each) 20 years. 

Worth noting: the study is meant to highlight the conceptual feasibility of such a pipeline. RINA and AFRY included a disclaimer stressing that the estimates and appraisals are subject to change. 

 

Geopolitical and Natural Gas Context

The feasibility study comes as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has pushed Europe to seek more reliable alternatives to secure its energy supply. The European Union (EU) has banned the purchase or import of seaborne crude oil from Russia (since December 2022) and other refined petroleum (starting in February 2023), with few exceptions. 

Meanwhile, the EU targets a 55% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (from 1990) by 2030, aiming to reach net-zero status by 2050. RINA and AFRY estimated that as European countries pursue ambitious decarbonization targets, low-carbon hydrogen supply volume would need to grow twice as fast as the rate of natural gas expansion over the next five decades. 

The war in Ukraine complicates things since the block of Russian natural gas supplies to Europe left a gap of around 100 billion cubic meters (BCM). This shortfall is difficult to cover with liquified natural gas, as 150 BCM of Russian deliveries to Northwestern Europe in 2021 mismatches the 100 BCM of available re-gasification capacity across Europe—much of which is clustered in the southwestern part of the continent, with a limited pipeline capacity to the northeast. 

Other countries are considering repurposing their existing natural gas infrastructure for green hydrogen pathways. The United States has around 3 million miles of natural gas pipelines and over 1,600 miles of hydrogen pipelines, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Hydrogen made through renewable energy can be injected into natural gas pipelines to produce low-emission blends for heat and power. HyBlend, a research and development initiative within the DOE, is exploring this concept through materials compatibility research, techno-economic studies, and lifecycle analysis. 

 

Hydrogen Expansion in Europe

According to a recent report by Norway-based research consultancy Rystad Energy, there are over 2,671 miles of hydrogen transportation infrastructure globally today, of which over 90% is located in Europe and North America. Over 90 pipeline projects totaling 18,827 miles are underway worldwide, expected to come online by 2035. 

 

Operational and planned hydrogen pipelines across Europe

Operational and planned hydrogen pipelines across Europe. Image used courtesy of Rystad Energy

 

The European Commission’s hydrogen expansion strategy includes a 2030 target to produce 10 million tonnes and import another 10 million tonnes of renewable hydrogen. Over the last few years, it has poured significant funding into hydrogen transport projects.

Notable projects include the SoutH2 Corridor, a 2,050-mile hydrogen pipeline linking North Africa, Germany, Austria, and Italy. With a hydrogen import capacity topping 4 million tonnes annually, the pipeline could meet 40% of the EU’s import target. Slated to enter operation in 2030, SoutH2 will use 70% repurposed infrastructure from existing pipelines and build new segments where needed. 

 

AquaDuctus pipeline

The upcoming AquaDuctus pipeline will transport green hydrogen from offshore wind installations in the North Sea. The circles labeled “1” and “2” represent the initial project stage (timing at around 2030) and a follow-up extension (around 2035), respectively. Image used courtesy of GASCADE Gastransport

 

Others include H2Med, a subsea pipeline from Spain to France with 2 million metric tons of annual hydrogen capacity, and AquaDuctus, Germany’s debut offshore hydrogen pipeline linked to offshore wind turbines in the North Sea.