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EU bets big on fossil hydrogen and carbon storage

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The EU Commission presented a list of 166 energy and power projects on Tuesday (28 November) that will lay the foundation for Europe’s future energy system.

“Today’s list of cross-border projects draws the new energy map of Europe. The era of EU funding for fossil-fuel infrastructure is over,” said energy commissioner Kadri Simson on Tuesday.

The so-called projects of common and mutual interest (PCI and PMI) will build up power, hydrogen and CO2 networks across Europe and link them to other regions including north Africa, Scandinavia, the United Kingdom and Ukraine.

This marks the sixth iteration of the PCI list, a biennially-updated compilation of international energy projects earmarked for public funding and prioritisation. Notably, this edition excluded fossil-fuel infrastructure for the first time.

Much of the list is comprised of power projects, including electricity storage, interconnectors, and smart grid projects. But a list of 65 hydrogen and electrolyser projects was also included for the first time.

These hydrogen projects “will enable export and transfer flows of renewable hydrogen to neighbouring member states and allow major industries to decarbonise and stay in the EU,” said Simson.

Carbon trains

One of the most eye-catching projects on the list is a hydrogen pipeline connecting producers in Norway to industrial off-takers in Germany.

The pipeline, a collaboration between Norse gas giant Equinor and German power company RWE, aims to transport two gigawatts of hydrogen made from fossil gas — also known as ‘blue hydrogen‘ — by 2030, and up to five times that amount by 2038.

The blue hydrogen is to be produced at two large-scale facilities in western Norway, one of which Equinor is planning to build, the other proposed by Shell.

The CO2 emissions from the production of blue hydrogen would be “safely stored under the seabed of Norway with the aid of carbon capture and storage technology [CCS]”, according to the RWE project description.

The approved list includes 14 CCS projects in line with the EU goal to “create a market” for the fledgling technology. One of these projects proposes to transport CO2 by rail between Latvia and Lithuania. Feasibility studies are ongoing.

Another operation from Le Havre in France and Dunkirk in Belgium aims to transport the stuff by ship to various sinks in the North Sea.

Dirty hydrogen

But both campaigners and academics have repeatedly warned that 80 percent of all CCS projects have been shut down due to cost overruns and failing technology.

Many that remain operational are capturing far less carbon than intended, as shown by recent US-based NGO Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) research.

Global Witness research from 2022 previously covered in EUobserver similarly showed that the CCS system at the blue hydrogen plant operated by Shell in Alberta, Canada — one of the few such operational facilities worldwide — was emitting more CO2 than it was capturing.

These findings corroborated a 2021 study by Cornell University that showed that gas emissions from burning blue hydrogen were more than 20 percent greater than using conventional gas.

“As the climate crisis deepens, the very least we should expect is for taxpayers’ money to not be wasted on fossil fuels,” said Dominic Eagleton, a senior fossil fuels campaigner at Global Witness.

The use of blue hydrogen has been psuhed by industrial and gas lobbies as shown previously by EUobserver.

But independent researchers widely agree cleaner green hydrogen produced from solar and wind power should be used to replace hydrogen uses, limited to the production of cement, fertilisers and petrochemicals like methanol.

“This project should be a non-starter,” said Eagleton, referring to the hydrogen pipeline. “But Equinor is on track to get public funds from the EU to make it happen.”

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