The issue of using hydrogen, in particular its transportation through Ukraine is now relevant and on the agenda. At the same time, the main condition for the implementation of all hydrogen projects is understanding whether Ukraine can use the existing gas infrastructure, most of which was built in the last century by the Soviet Union, to transport hydrogen or its mixture with natural gas. As it became known to 112.ua, Operator of Ukraine’s GTS (OGTSU) and a large operator Regional Gas Company (RGC) have already started research, which should provide answers to these questions. In particular, there is a huge danger, which cannot be underestimated. Even environmentally friendly green hydrogen is extremely explosive!
Why Ukraine needs hydrogen
After the approval of the hydrogen strategy in the European Union on July 8, Europe and Ukraine are actively negotiating cooperation in a new direction. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said that the possibility of using the gas transportation system of Ukraine for hydrogen transportation is being discussed. "Germany will be one of the largest markets for the consumption of hydrogen energy, and Ukraine can become a reliable supplier of hydrogen to the EU, in particular to Germany," Kuleba said. Earlier, the press service of the Foreign Ministry reported that the EU has identified Ukraine as its priority partner in implementing the European hydrogen strategy and supplying the latest energy resource to the European market. From 2020 to 2024, the EU envisages the installation of at least 6 GW hydrogen electrolysers and the production of up to 1 million tons of renewable (green) hydrogen.
"Hydrogen is moving from the 'industrial gases' category to the 'energy carrier' and is now truly identified as one of the key pathways for decarbonization of the EU. The demand for hydrogen will be significant. The hydrogen economy will probably start with local or regional supplies and the development of appropriate networks. In the next decade, we will see the growth of cross-border trade, interconnected networks and transportation of hydrogen across Europe. We have submitted to the Ministry of Energy our proposals for cooperation with the German side on hydrogen issues. We know that a big agreement is being prepared," OGTSU CEO Serhiy Makogon said to 112.ua.
Hydrogen production technologies are still expensive, but in the future, when ways are found to make them cheaper. Ukraine could not only transport hydrogen in the interests of a third party, but also use it itself. The International Energy Agency has estimated the current cost of producing one kilogram of "green" hydrogen, (on which in the context of decarbonization a key rate is made) in the range of US $ 3 to 7.5 versus US $ 0.9-3.2 in production using steam reforming of methane.
Subject to economic feasibility, Ukraine could use hydrogen as a component replacing part of natural gas for heating premises, supplying gas burners (for cooking), in industry, the head of the Expert Council on the development of the gas industry and the natural gas market told 112.ua. Pilot versions to use mixtures of hydrogen and natural gas in everyday life are already being implemented in Europe.
As you know, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy recently held a meeting with investors who intend to build a hydrogen production plant and a wind farm in Ukraine. And Minister of Energy Olga Buslavets also spoke about the construction of a hydrogen production plant.
"Green" hydrogen could help Ukraine solve the problem of electricity surplus. Of decisive importance, however, will be the price of electrolysers (installations for converting electricity to hydrogen). The IEA predicts it will halve by 2040. Director of the Regional Gas Company (uniting 20 GDS operators) Oleg Nikonorov sees the prospect of using hydrogen in Ukraine as shunting capacities for balancing the power system: "Renewable energy generated during peak periods can be transformed into green hydrogen generated by nuclear power plants. Through the installation of electrolyzers, this electricity can be converted into gas and used as a gas mixed with methane (natural gas). There is also an option to use electricity recovered from hydrogen. This is the power to gas concept."
RGC announced a large-scale study of the suitability of regional gas networks for hydrogen transportation, which is the main condition for the development of the direction on an industrial scale. Of course, the technology of transporting hydrogen in cylinders is not an option at all. "There are different options for transporting hydrogen - sea, road, rail. And, of course, the most productive one is pipeline. According to European plans, the Hydrogen Backbone will be created - a hydrogen pipeline network that will consist of 70% of the existing infrastructure. We are actively looking for our own a place for integration into this system. For us this is a strategic issue", Serhiy Makogon told 112.ua.
What is the danger of hydrogen in old gas networks
The main problem of hydrogen transportation in the Ukrainian gas pipeline system is its age - most of both the main and regional infrastructure was built back in Soviet times. In particular, the RGC conducts practical experiments on the transportation of hydrogen in the closed system of the Zhytomyrgaz landfill, built in the 50s of the last century.
The dilapidation of gas pipelines and their sections creates a possibility of leakage, which is extremely dangerous and fraught with explosions: "Hydrogen is an explosive gas, it poses a huge danger when mixed with oxygen. Hydrogen is a volatile compound, 3 times lighter than natural gas and 14 times lighter than ordinary air" , said Nikonorov. Leonid Unigovsky warns about the danger of hydrogen leaks: "The main thing is to take care of safety. If there is a leak of natural gas, it is dangerous, but with hydrogen it is much more dangerous. 4% hydrogen plus oxygen is an explosive gas, an explosive mixture."
Last year, after an explosion at a hydrogen fuel cell gas station near Oslo, Norway, the station owner closed ten others, including one in Denmark.
It should be noted that there is still no final answer to the question of how hydrogen affects the pipe metal. There are suspicions that the effect is negative. In particular, the chief engineer of the OGTSU Yuri Zyabchenko spoke about this. There is a suspicion that hydrogen can penetrate into the crystal lattice of the metal, Nikonorov noted. The answer to the question whether this is so and how much it increases the danger of leaks can only be given by research.
OGTSU has planned a study of the effect of hydrogen on gas pipelines, Serhiy Makogon told 112.ua: "A separate division has already been created in the Operator of the Ukrainian GTS, which on a daily basis deals with decarbonization and the introduction of new technologies. The purpose of its work, including prospects for the transportation of renewable gases (biomethane, synthetic methane and hydrogen) is development of road maps, implementation of pilot projects. Yes, studies of the effect of hydrogen on gas pipelines are planned, now we are studying international experience in order to most accurately determine the technical task.
RGC conducts research on the effect of hydrogen on gas networks and the possibility of its transportation independently, financing them at its own expense "The purpose of the research is to understand whether we can transport hydrogen in the existing gas pipeline system without risking their structure and the danger of leaks, or the system needs to be modernized: research should show weaknesses and answer the question of what exactly needs to be changed and in what amount We are even ready for the answer “no, it is impossible to transport hydrogen or its mixture with gas in the Ukrainian regional gas networks," Oleg Nikonorov told 112.ua.
According to Nikonorov, RGC invests its own funds in research. "We do not want to spend a lot of money. There is more initiative and work than investment. At this stage, there is no commercialization. But if we understand what is possible with certain conditions, we will understand for ourselves where to go next - in this case investments in research can amount to several million hryvnia. " Nikonorov made it clear that the RGC is ready to provide research results not free of charge to colleagues from Europe, or to conduct them jointly: “If doing such research in Europe will cost tens of millions of euros, while in Ukraine there may be up to ten million hryvnias. We can share with our European colleagues the results of the conducted research ".
It is not excluded that in the future the main and regional operators will join their efforts. Nikonorov said that the RGC would like to work on research together with OGTSU and invites the operator of the backbone networks to participate in the project: "There are moments in respect of which we cannot find solutions on our own without the GTS Operator. In particular, the issue of odorization - you need to understand we are open to cooperation with all stakeholders, but it would be more correct for this initiative to be promoted by the Department of Energy, since the approach should be very thoughtful and comprehensive, "said Makogon, answering the question about the possibility of potential cooperation between the "Operator of GTS" and RGC.
Obviously, the issue of using and transporting hydrogen is not as simple as it seems at first glance. Earlier, than the studies, which will give an idea of the potential danger and all the pitfalls of this radically new direction are completed - and this will happen not earlier than in a couple of years - there can be no question of real projects. If someone's criminal greed does not create grounds for a repetition of an explosion similar to the one that occurred in Beirut. After all, Europe is ready to pay big money for transportation!