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Fantasies related to the use of hydrogen in the energy sector have not been tested by reality

© Форпост Северо-Запад

A plant for the production of environmentally friendly hydrogen, which was being built near the German town of Heide, will not be put into operation. All work there has been permanently halted. This was announced last week, three years after the creation of the alliance "H2 West Coast", which was to realise this project, by its initiators from France, Denmark and Germany.

The reason is banal: the top management of the participating companies finally became convinced that they will not be able to recover their investments, even despite the generous government grants. So the village of Hemmingstedt, on the outskirts of which the construction was underway, is now famous not only for the historic battle during which the local militia defeated a superior army of invaders in 1500, but also for another fiasco involving the lightest gas in nature.

By the way, the news about it came at the very moment when Europe was overwhelmed by another burst of talk about the imminent transition of the Old World to hydrogen technologies. The need to repurpose methane transport infrastructure to meet the challenges of the future was stated, for example, by Italgas CEO Paolo Gallo.

"Today we are switching to natural gas, but tomorrow we will have pure hydrogen, which is a crucial resource on the road to carbon neutrality. Thus, it is extremely important that the pipeline system is ready to accept different types of gases under blending conditions," Mr Gallo stressed.

Северный поток

He is far from being the only one to suggest that decisive action should be taken in this direction. Similar statements are periodically heard from politicians, scientists and energy specialists all over the world. However, the matter does not go beyond declarations, and there are quite objective reasons for this, which lie in physical laws.

As we know, hydrogen is the lightest element in the Universe. This means that it can penetrate into the crystal lattice of any steel much more effectively than any other gas, including methane, breaking its tightness and then interacting with oxygen. It is quite easy to imagine what consequences such a reaction can lead to. It is enough to remember the history of airship construction and numerous disasters of these aircrafts, which occurred precisely because they were fuelled with H2.

Russian scientists have long ago proved that the maximum possible proportion of hydrogen when mixed with traditional blue fuel is 20%. If this figure is exceeded, the impermeability of the pipeline in the area of welded seams, which are its most vulnerable places, will soon be broken, leading to an explosion. In other words, the risks are great, but there is little point in minimising the impact on nature. It turns out that the proposals to "repurpose the existing infrastructure" for the first number of the Mendeleev table can only mean its complete replacement by a much more costly logistics chain. After all, it will be necessary to use special steel for its creation.

© Photo by Christopher Burns on Unsplash

It is easy to guess why numerous adherents of hydrogen energy avoid this unpopular topic, focusing exclusively on its positive characteristics, in particular, zero emissions. For politicians, such speculations bring additional votes at elections, as every person in his or her right mind and solid memory is, of course, in favour of reducing man-made impact on nature. As for scientists and businessmen, it's even simpler. If you receive or apply for government grants and subsidies for research in the field of "energy of the future", it would be strange to be sceptical. In this case, you may not wait for the money.

Returning to the project of a plant for the production of environmentally friendly hydrogen, which was to appear near the town of Heide, it has also been financed for the last three years by the Ministry of Economics of the Federal Republic of Germany within the framework of the programme "Real Laboratories for Energy Transition". The total amount of state subsidies was supposed to be 36 million euros, but according to representatives of the participating companies - Stadtwerke Heide, Ørsted and Hynamics - only about 1 million of these funds have been utilised.

"The production of environmentally friendly hydrogen does not make sense, primarily because of the high investment costs and associated risks. Despite the Government's financial support, permanent operation of such a plant on an industrial scale is not economically feasible. We cannot throw money into the wind, but, unfortunately, this is exactly what is happening, because in the absence of a market (for the product - ed.) all our expenditures are meaningless," commented Jörg Kubica, Managing Director of the German branch of the offshore wind energy company Ørsted from Denmark.

He is echoed by Andreas Hein, chairman of the supervisory board of another project participant, Stadtwerke Heide. He says that "the realisation of initiatives related to the use of green hydrogen has not progressed one step in three years". A seemingly standard statement aimed at justifying the apparent squandering of public funds. But in fact, it is a diagnosis, and an extremely unpleasant one for the European authorities.


It is no secret that they started their "crusade" against Russian natural gas under the banner of hydrogen energy, which was supposed to replace the previous "ideal mix": methane plus renewable sources. The answer to all the questions related to the lack of technologies allowing to produce, transport, store and use H2 on an industrial scale was always the same: the main thing is to start, and while the preparatory period is going on, our scientists will think of something and engineers will put it into "iron".

So far, it hasn't worked out. Yes, and it is unlikely that it will, because to achieve a positive result, in addition to desire, it is necessary to have capabilities. And in this area they are very much limited by the laws of physics and economics. So in the future, at least for several decades, Brussels and Berlin will have to replace Russian methane not with hydrogen, but with American LNG. In the Old World, it now costs more than $500 per thousand cubic metres, that is about 2.5 times more expensive than Gazprom's supplies four years ago. Even the most active supporters of this resource are not yet willing to calculate, at least roughly, how much it will cost to switch to hydrogen. The figure is too exorbitant and frightening.