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Thursday, 22 September 2022

Oman wants to use its natgas network to transport hydrogen ⁠— but why?

Oman wants to repurpose its natgas network to transport hydrogen: The owner and operator of Oman’s gas pipeline system, state-owned OQ Gas Networks, has begun tests to assess the network’s readiness to transport hydrogen across the country, Managing Director Mansoor Al Abdali announced recently at an investor forum hosted by the Muscat Stock Exchange (MSX), the Oman Daily Observer reported yesterday. A feasibility study on integrating hydrogen into existing natgas networks is close to being complete, with initial tests transporting hydrogen at low levels proving “promising,” Al Abdali is reported as saying.

Oman has big hydrogen plans: Oman’s hydrogen strategy envisions the country producing the equivalent of 10 GW of hydrogen by the end of the decade and 30 GW by 2040. Several large-scale projects have been announced over the past 18 months. Omani oil and gas company OQ is working with InterContinental Energy and EnerTech on a 14 GW facility which will be powered by 25 GW of wind and solar energy. ACME and Scatec are partnering on a green ammonia plant that will produce 1.2 mn tons of ammonia powered by 3.5 GW of renewable energy. The country plans to export much of what it produces, and earlier this month said it would begin looking at constructing a hydrogen export terminal.

Why use the natgas network to move hydrogen? Because it’s cost- and time-efficient: The cost of transporting hydrogen using the existing natgas pipeline will be substantially lower than investing in building new networks, Al Abdali said. Using gas pipelines is “by far the most economically viable method” to transport hydrogen, as a “very high energy transportation capacity can be achieved,” according to Siemens Energy. The process is both cost and time-efficient, because it doesn’t require the construction of new infrastructure, CEO of German gas pipeline operator Gascade Christoph von dem Bussche is quoted as saying.

Figuring out how to transport hydrogen is important if we want the tech to take off: Figuring out how to transport hydrogen is key to creating an effective and affordable hydrogen economy, according to a report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) picked up by Reuters saying last month. But moving hydrogen — “the universe’s lightest and most energy-dense (by weight) element” — in a way that’s efficient and affordable is “easier said than done,” the newswire wrote.

Major issues to address include cost reduction, increasing energy efficiency, maintaining hydrogen purity and minimizing leakage, notes the US energy efficiency and renewable energy department. Building delivery infrastructure is also a big challenge — requiring time, investment, and the combination of different technologies.

This is why repurposing natgas pipelines is being looked at — especially in Europe: Some members of the European Hydrogen Backbone (EHB) initiative — a group of 31 energy infrastructure operators — are working together to see how thousands of miles of pipelines across Europe could be repurposed to carry hydrogen, and avoid them turning into “stranded assets,” Reuters reported in November 2021. Some 69% of these existing pipelines could be converted for up to USD 94 bn, they estimated at the time.

In MENA, Oman seems to be the only country seriously exploring it so far: Though interest in hydrogen in the GCC is substantial, “the topic of transport is still open,” notes a July 2022 paper by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. Qatar is currently focused on natgas export for blue hydrogen production overseas, while other countries are “still struggling with the right strategy,” the paper notes. When it comes to Oman’s overall hydrogen strategy, the country is “creating new structures and introducing various projects,” it adds.

But could it one day be on the cards for North Africa too? Existing infrastructure carrying natgas in Algeria and Libya to Europe via Italy and Spain should be leveraged for hydrogen export, argues a June 2021 open access study, published in the book Shaping an Inclusive Energy Transition, edited by academics from Delft University of Technology. Gas transport infrastructure in North Africa and Europe could be used to carry first blue, then green, hydrogen between 2030 and 2035, the study suggests. Alongside this strategy, new hydrogen gas pipeline infrastructure could be built — connecting Egypt and Greece to the main European gas grid in Italy, it adds.

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