Report: Scotland could become major exporter of low-carbon hydrogen to Europe

Image: NZTC

The Net-Zero Technology Centre (NZTC) had received £1.6m funding from the Scottish Government to assess the potential economic benefits of a major hydrogen pipeline between Scotland and either the Netherlands or Germany. It has this week unveiled its findings in a new report.

The report assesses a proposed undersea network of pipelines, called the ‘Hydrogen Backbone Link’, connecting Scotland with Ireland and either the Netherlands and/or Germany. Two potential routes are detailed, each making use of existing North Sea infrastructure for natural gas.

A Hydrogen Backbone Link project could come online in the early 2030s if properly supported, the report concludes. It would cost around £2.8bn to deliver if routed from Scotland to Germany, avoiding England. A project running through England would be more costly.

Using previous assessments from the Scottish Government, the report authors calculated that Scotland could export up to 94 twh of green hydrogen to European markets by 2045, in the best-case-scenario. In the years between 2030 and 2050, Scotland could meet up to 10.5% of Europe’s low-carbon hydrogen import needs.

The report states that while Scotland has been an “early mover” on investment in hydrogen production, it will need to look strategically at investment in storage and transport infrastructure to maximise the potential economic benefits of growing this nascent technology.

The report authors recommend that the UK and Scottish Government collaborate to develop a national strategy for hydrogen storage and transport – with the Hydrogen Backbone Link as the jewel in the crown in terms of transport.

It also calls on these Governments to firm up their long-term plans for hydrogen generation investment, with a focus on green hydrogen.

The UK Government this year unveiled the first set of green hydrogen projects to be supported by its inaugural hydrogen fund and business model. The fund will allocate up to £240m in grants for projects producing hydrogen using green methods in the first instance; later rounds may support other production methods like blue (natural gas with carbon capture) or pink (electrolysers powered by nuclear electricity).

The business model will support selected producers of low-carbon hydrogen by paying them a premium for production. This will help to bridge the cost gap between fossil-based hydrogen and cleaner hydrogen.

Interventions like this, the report states, need to be coupled with long-term clarity on support for renewable electricity capacity additions.

Cadent this week stated that hydrogen could only play a major role in home heating in the UK if producers could access 40GW of offshore wind capacity. This assumes that half of domestic heat needs in 2050 would be met by hydrogen. The calculation is far lower than previous calculations from the Hydrogen Science Coalition, which last year put the figure at 385GW.

The UK is aiming to host 50GW of offshore wind by 2030 but debate rages about the economics and climate impacts of using renewable electricity for hydrogen production rather than the direct electrification of heat.

Private sector investment

It is noted in the NZTC’s report that the private sector would foot the majority of the bill for the Hydrogen Backbone Link.

Entities supporting research into the project include Shell, Wood, Wood Mackenzie, Worley, DNV.GL, Kellas Midstream, SDG, XODUS and SGN. The National Grid has also offered its support for R&D on the Backbone Link.

These organisations will now support the next phase of research, which will lay out a pathway for beginning construction on the Backbone Link.

The NZTC’s lead on the project, Callum Milne, said: “Scotland is poised to utilise its abundant natural resources, skilled workforce and proximity to an energy-hungry market in north-west Europe. But to maximise this will take accelerated and increased government and industry investment, rapid development of infrastructure and cross-border collaboration over the next decade.”

Related news: Hydrogen levy on home energy bills to be shelved

Download edie’s free guide to hydrogen for net-zero by clicking here.

Comments (2)

  1. Richard Phillips says:

    Will the politicians in HMG understand the science behind these projects?

  2. Roger Munford says:

    Is it more cost effective to export the electricity to the end user to generate hydrogen on site or is it more cost effective to produce hydrogen close to the electricity source and export it as hydrogen gas.
    It seems that it is more flexible to transport electricity because that can used on the grid as well.
    However you must transport much more electricity to the hydrogen user because of the loss in conversion.
    Hydrogen is and always will be important as a chemical but its use as a fuel seems to be overestimated.

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