The Environmental Impact of Renewable Hydrogen Transportation in Europe

The Environmental Impact of Renewable Hydrogen Transportation in Europe

Renewable hydrogen is set to play a vital role in reducing carbon emissions in Europe. Previous research has shown that sourcing hydrogen from regions with cheaper renewable energy can be more cost-effective than local production. However, concerns about the environmental impact of transporting large quantities of hydrogen over long distances have been raised. A new study compares the life cycle environmental impacts of on-site production through different methods and delivery pathways.

The study compared on-site production through steam methane reforming (SMR) or electrolysis with three different delivery methods – compression, liquefaction, and chemical bonding to other molecules. It considered transportation by both ship and pipeline over a distance of 2,500 km. The results indicate that the environmental performance of hydrogen supplied to large industries varies significantly based on the production technology and delivery pathway.

The study conducted by the JRC for the Clean Hydrogen Partnership provides key recommendations for policymakers and stakeholders. The most environmentally sustainable approach is on-site production using efficient renewable sources. If on-site production is not feasible, importing renewable hydrogen can still reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to on-site production with fossil fuels.

Shipping liquid hydrogen and transporting compressed hydrogen through pipelines have been deemed to have the least environmental impact when delivering hydrogen over long distances. On the other hand, using chemical carriers like ammonia or liquid organic compounds demands more energy and resources, making them less desirable options.

The report highlights the close relationship between the environmental impact of delivered hydrogen and renewable energy infrastructure. For imported solar-generated hydrogen to have an environmental advantage, the impact of generating electricity through photovoltaic panels must be reduced. Water use is also a crucial factor, with on-site hydrogen generation in water-rich countries proving to be more sustainable in terms of water use.

Hydrogen losses during the delivery chain can significantly increase the environmental impact of delivered hydrogen. However, options that are more susceptible to losses, such as liquid and compressed hydrogen, still have lower environmental impacts than using hydrogen carriers. When on-site production is not feasible, importing renewable hydrogen from closer regions becomes the more sustainable choice.

The transportation of renewable hydrogen in Europe has significant environmental implications that need to be carefully considered. The study provides insights into the most environmentally sustainable production technologies and delivery methods for hydrogen. Policymakers and stakeholders can use these findings to accelerate the transition towards a more sustainable hydrogen economy in Europe.


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