Germany to start building hydrogen infrastructure next year - Lufthansa would take half of Germany's electricity production
Germany is now creating a hydrogen market. Hydrogen network construction in Germany will start as early as next year. The Nordic countries now need big players in the market.
In September 2023, Carsten Spohr, Lufthansa's CEO with an engineering background, criticised German Economy Minister Robert Habeck's big hydrogen plans. The plan is to use electrolysers to produce hydrogen from hydrogen and use it to make synthetic fuels, including for aviation.
"To produce enough fuel, we would need about half of Germany's electricity," Spohr said at an aviation conference in Hamburg. "I don't think Mr Habeck will give me that," Spohr continued.
Lufthansa is not even the only major airline operating out of Germany. For example, DHL is currently looking for hydrogen refiners big enough to supply it with huge quantities of synthetic fuels for its gigantic fleet of aircrafts in the future.
Hydrogen infrastructure construction to start next year in Germany
However, Habeck's grand hydrogen plans are starting to become a reality. Habeck unveiled refined versions of his German hydrogen plans last week, in mid-November 2023. Plans for a German-wide hydrogen pipeline network covering the main interconnections have now been fleshed out. The total length of the core network will be around 9,700 km and will be connected to subsequent local hydrogen pipelines.
The excavators will start practical construction work as early as next year, 2024, and the first H₂ pipelines in Germany will start flowing hydrogen as early as 2025. The emission-free hydrogen will flow along the pipelines to replace the current use of natural gas and coal in steel and chemical plants, for example.
According to Mr Habeck, the network will be designed to meet the needs of the near future. It will have an input capacity of 270 terawatt-hours, compared with the 95-130 terawatt-hours currently estimated to be needed for 2030. "We are planning for the future," said Mr Habeck, presenting the refined plans.
In the long term, Habeck expects Germany to produce 30-50% of its own hydrogen needs, with the rest imported from abroad. This would be done through pipelines coming into Germany from abroad or, for example, as ammonia on board ship. Mr Habeck stressed that this would make Germany less dependent on imports than it is today for oil, gas and coal, of which almost 100% is imported.
As with natural gas and electricity in Germany, the pipelines would be paid for by user charges. As there will be relatively few customers initially, the state plans to pay for the costs over the next 20 years to keep usage affordable and to help kick-start the hydrogen economy.
Everything produced could be sold
The German Federal Government’s plans to spend an immense amount of state money to create a hydrogen market will have a big impact on the Nordic countries.
First, the emergence of a hydrogen market near the Nordic countries is now a virtual certainty.
Second, that market will be enormous. Whether the Nordic countries produce hydrogen or refined hydrogen products such as synthetic fuels, they could sell it all to Central Europe – if only they wanted to. It is mainly a question of how much hydrogen and refined hydrogen products the Nordic countries can produce in total, both for their own use and for export.
Third, Germany’s plans mean that the Nordic countries will not be in competition with other hydrogen producers, at least not in the near term. Any hydrogen products that someone can produce at a reasonable price will be sold.
Fourth, the Nordic operators will have to know how to form alliances. The coming gargantuan market will demand equally big players. Hydrogen products will sell, but suppliers must be prepared to reliably supply them to individual users in large enough quantities. Individual small loads of synthetic jet fuel from Lufthansa and DHL are not going to do anything.
Forget the fear of becoming a colony
Exploiting the mega-market in Europe will require some attitude adjustments. The fear expressed in the constant stream of speeches about the Nordic countries becoming a mere producer of cheap hydrogen is exaggerated.
Hydrogen is an incredibly difficult substance to transport and store. Industry will seek to use hydrogen next to hydrogen production facilities to the extent space and operating environments permit. The North’s problem is not that Germany wants to buy pure hydrogen but that there are no suitable sites for a new hydrogen processing industry in the North, that the experts the processing industry needs cannot be found in Nordic schools or abroad and that construction projects are mired in a slow-moving approval process.
The fear of becoming colonial countries is a problem because it could cause people to put the brakes on hydrogen pipeline construction from the North to the heartlands of Europe. Even if the Nordic countries were to use virtually all of their hydrogen in steel and chemical plants on their own coasts or process it into synthetic fuels, the pipelines would still be needed. Both the production and the consumption of hydrogen are constantly changing. Sometimes producers have a surplus and sometimes factories need more than they had expected.
BotH₂nia and OX2 will organise the Nordic Hydrogen Forum, a side event of Kokkola Material Week, on Tuesday 21 November 2023 in Kokkola. Visa Noronen will be the second presenter at the event. You can follow the event live here: https://materialweek.fi/
The original Finnish version of this article was published on LinkedIn.