E.ON converts natural gas pipeline in Germany to pure hydrogen

Hydrogen for heating E.ON converts natural gas pipeline to hydrogen for heating

Replacing natural gas by hydrogen for heating domestic residential and commercial buildings would have a massive impact on greenhouse gas emissions and reducing global warming. There is, of course, the important caveat that the hydrogen manufacture must be powered by renewable resources. There is no fundamental reason why this cannot be achieved, but there are significant challenges in doing so. 

For instance, hydrogen gas will diffuse into the steel used to produce gas pipes, causing them to embrittle. Although weight for weight hydrogen has a significantly higher calorific value than natural gas, it is much less dense and so must be supplied at significantly greater pressures. Theoretically, these are readily solvable engineering problems. For instance, sterenderedel pipes can be replaced with hydrogen impervious polyethylene pipes.

 An important project that will examine the feasibility of converting a natural gas network to hydrogen is taking place in Holzwickede, Germany. The project is called "H2HoWi" and is being carried out by the E.ON subsidiary Westenergie AG.

Westenergie will convert a natural gas pipeline, which forms part of the public supply, to pure hydrogen. The primary aims are to examine the influence of hydrogen on the materials used to construct the pipeline, associated seals, and the existing infrastructure. Specific issues include the compatibility of pump lubricants with hydrogen and potential diffusion losses.

The selected pipeline currently supplies medium pressure hydrogen to Holzwickede, a town in the Ruhr area. Engineers will disconnect the pipeline from the natural gas network and connect to a hydrogen storage facility. The hydrogen pipeline will supply four commercial customers who will use it for space heating. To enable this, Westenergie will upgrade existing customer installations by replacing their current natural gas boilers with hydrogen-compatible condensing boilers.

Construction work begins in November 2020, and the project will run until the end of 2023 at an estimated cost of one million euro.

As part of its ongoing strategy, E.ON aims to add green gases to natural gas in its distribution networks and to ultimately offer a 100% hydrogen supply should it be required in the future.

Describing the project, E.ON's Chief Operating Officer Thomas König said, "Upgrading the existing gas network infrastructure for hydrogen is an important prerequisite for the success of the energy transition. By converting green electricity into hydrogen, regenerative energy can be stored in gas networks. The gas networks can thus become the storage facilities of the future."

Replacing natural gas networks with green hydrogen as part of a multi-pronged approach to controlling global warming

Producing hydrogen using power derived from renewable resources and using that hydrogen to provide space heating for domestic and business premises will have a significant beneficial impact on climate change, but is it necessarily the best solution? Wouldn't it be more efficient to provide heating directly using renewable electrical power?

The debate is ongoing. It is not always possible or economical to generate and distribute renewable electrical energy to all locations, and in such places, hydrogen derived power is the preferred solution. Also, given the difficulties involved in storing renewable energy, converting it into hydrogen using the electrolysis of water or other sustainable processes is an excellent solution. 

The E.ON project is an important milestone which will establish the feasibility of converting existing natural gas networks to green hydrogen. Its success will, without doubt, prompt many similar projects that will pave the way to an integrated hydrogen grid.

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