According to the World Energy Transition Outlook 2023 – prepared by the International Renewable Energy Agency – hydrogen and its related compounds (ammonia, methanol and kerosene) are projected to account for 14% of energy use by 2050. However, barriers to companies entering the hydrogen market could prevent this from being realised. In the run up to COP28, industry leaders met at the eighth meeting of the Collaborative Framework on Green Hydrogen to prepare a report on the technical challenges facing those in the hydrogen industry.

Amongst regulatory and policy issues, industry leaders identified technical issues relating to hydrogen transportation and storage as being key barriers for companies entering the hydrogen market. Notably, María Jaén (Electric Power Research Institute's European H2Research Lead), highlighted the challenges relating to repurposing of existing pipelines and construction of new pipelines for hydrogen transportation, and encouraged transmission system operators to thoroughly assess the feasibility of using their existing gas network for hydrogen purposes.

The challenges of transporting and storing hydrogen (due to its low density and high flammability when mixed with air) are well recognized in industry. For example, the Hydrogen Backbone Link report, published earlier this year by the Net Zero Technology Centre, acknowledged that the repurposing of existing hydrocarbon pipelines from Scotland to Europe would likely not be the most practical option due to the technical complexities involved, and that a new purpose-built pipeline to mainland Europe may be more financially viable. Clearly, if existing gas infrastructure is going to be utilised for hydrogen transport, technological innovation is required to make this feasible.

One possibility, explained at the Collaborative Framework meeting by Magnolia Tovar (Global Director of Zero-Carbon Fuels, Clean Air Task Force), is that transport of ammonia, rather than pure hydrogen, may offer a cheaper pathway for transporting hydrogen molecules, but only if the ammonia is used as final product and not cracked back to hydrogen. Perhaps focusing on developing technology that improves ammonia fuel sources, or technology that improves the process of converting ammonia into hydrogen, rather than technology that adapts gas infrastructure for pure hydrogen transportation, is how existing gas infrastructure can be best utilised.

As companies innovate towards making hydrogen power account for 14% of energy use by 2050, it is important that companies secure their IP rights at the outset to protect their position in an emerging supply chain.

Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI)'s European H2Research Lead, María Jaén, elaborated on the challenges related to repurposing of existing, and construction of new pipelines for hydrogen transportation, including erosion and decrease in energy content. The gas transmission system operators (TSO) need to thoroughly assess the feasibility of using their existing gas network for hydrogen purposes, she concluded.

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