Ukraine Primes The Green Hydrogen Pump For EU Membership

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If anyone out there still doubts that green hydrogen has a leading role to play in the sustainable economy of the future, the Special Representative of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine on the Economic Diplomacy has just told them to wake up and smell the coffee. Even as Russia continues its murderous rampage, Ukraine has cooked up a green hydrogen plan to make the case for EU membership. Game on, skeptics.

Ukraine Makes The Green Hydrogen Case

Ukraine’s green hydrogen plan is of apiece with its efforts to show that it can join the European Union not as a nation in need of rescue, but one that can stand on its own two feet and make key contributions to the EU economy.

Special Representative Oleksandr Riepkin laid out the case in an op-ed published in Euro News on June 17, citing a green hydrogen plan that was in the works months before Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an unprovoked attack on the nation.

“Ukraine has everything needed to become a successful European player in the hydrogen market – and an important supplier of energy to the EU,” he wrote.

Evidently the plan is to leverage Ukraine’s solar energy resources to run electrolysis systems, which push hydrogen gas from water with an electrical current. Wind energy is another emerging pathway.

“The cities of Zaporizhzhia, Mykolayiv, Odesa and Kherson all get as much or more sunshine than central Italy,” Riepkin added. “Thanks to these regions alone, Ukraine would be able to provide enough green hydrogen for both domestic needs and the needs of Europe.

Ukraine Already Has Green Hydrogen Up Its Sleeve

Regardless of lingering skepticism over the green hydrogen market, Ukraine has already set the wheels in motion.

“Potential evaluation studies have been carried out, and we can already say with certainty that the Odesa region could generate up to 3 GW of green hydrogen. The ‘Danub; project, which was planned before the war, will build several hydrogen production facilities for export to the EU in Lviv and in Odesa,” Riepkin noted.

Riepkin’s case is based partly on the proposed “Ukraine Hydrogen Valley,” which was outlined in a report back in 2020. “The Black Sea Hydrogen Valley project represents the renewable energy potential of the south of Ukraine, which, together with the gas transportation infrastructure, will ensure the economically successful export of «green» hydrogen to the European Union and Germany in 2022 – 2050,” the report anticipated.

A green hydrogen roadmap produced last year similarly noted that “the development of renewable hydrogen projects could present a significant investment opportunity in Ukraine. Not only does Ukraine enjoy some of the most abundant renewable resources in Europe, but it also is the country that is most in need of new and clean forms of energy to support economic development.

More recently, earlier this spring our friends over at SP Global noted that “Ukraine featured prominently in the EU’s hydrogen import plans before the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, with the EU citing Ukraine as a ‘priority partner’ in its hydrogen strategy published in 2020.”

SP Global described two cross-border projects among those already in the pipeline: “the Green Hydrogen @ Blue Danube scheme, which envisages hydrogen production and transport along the river, with imports to Germany, and the Central European Hydrogen Corridor (CEHC), which would send hydrogen from Ukraine to Germany by dedicated pipelines via Slovakia and the Czech Republic.”

But What Does This Mean?

All of this activity sheds yet another shaft of light onto the motivation behind Russia’s bloody rampage through Ukraine.

As some have surmised, it is reasonable to assume that Putin aims to lock in the copious fossil gas reserves that lay untapped beneath the surface of the Donbas region, while also shoring up Russia’s control over the global food supply.

The invasion could be intended to cripple Ukraine’s ability to follow through on its green hydrogen plans, thereby maintaining EU dependence on Russian gas while also making it more difficult for Ukraine to make its case for joining the EU.

And, that is a really good case. It’s no secret that the EU has been leaning on green hydrogen as an effective pathway for decarbonization. Over the past several years, the EU has become a hotspot for green hydrogen activity, with Shell and other global oil and gas stakeholders leading the charge.

If Putin and his planners are aware of the EU’s interest in Ukraine’s renewable resources, it stands to reason they would want to smack down the Ukrainian green hydrogen industry before it has a chance to get off the ground.

More Green Hydrogen For The EU

The war in Ukraine is far from over, but it sure looks like Putin has bitten off more than he can chew. Riepkin’s op-ed indicates that EU and Ukrainian green hydrogen planners are determined to pick up where they left off.

That could take a while as the war drags on, but other stakeholders could step in to pick up the slack until Ukraine gets up to speed.

Sustainable H2 hubs are in the proposal stages all over the US, from the seemingly unlikely state of Texas to an ambitious tri-state project involving two former rivals in the field — New York and New Jersey — along with Connecticut. All else being equal, green hydrogen activity in the US could help free up more natural gas for export to the EU. That’s not particularly great news from a climate action perspective, but it could help the EU shake free of Russian gas until sufficient renewables are on the market.

Let’s Talk About “Clean” H2

For all the activity brewing in the renewable hydrogen area, fossil energy stakeholders are determined to carve out space for themselves as the global demand for hydrogen ramps up, and they still have some key policy makers on their side.

Here in the US, for example, the Energy Department’s new hydrogen hub initiative includes a carve-out for natural gas, which is still the primary source of the global hydrogen supply (coal and biomass/biogas fill in to a lesser extent, along with hydrogen recovered from industrial waste gas).

Nevertheless, pressure from green hydrogen stakeholders could undercut those plans. After all, the point of producing hydrogen is to sell it, and if nobody is buying what you are selling then you’re in trouble. The hydrogen market is dominated by fossil sources now, but green hydrogen provides steel makers and other H2 buyers with alternative sourcing that attracts clients and customers who want the most sustainable bang for the buck.

In the latest example of the sustainable H2 trend at work, last month the leading energy company Ibderola celebrated the commissioning of a new green hydrogen hub in Spain, which deploys a water electrolysis system powered by renewable energy.

“It is the largest facility of its kind for industrial use in Europe, and is also the largest plant currently operating in the world,” Ibderola enthused, adding that “This facility could make Spain a benchmark in the production and development of this new energy vector, which would make a decisive contribution to the decarbonisation of sectors that are difficult to electrify, such as fertilisers, high-temperature industry and heavy transport.”

For the record, the Green Hydrogen @ Blue Danube project comes under the wing of the Austrian firm Verbund. The two-phase project is designed to start with green hydrogen production in Austria and Bavaria, presumably leveraging the company’s hydropower assets, before expanding to southeastern Europe, taking advantage of the Danube transportation corridor to overcome transmission bottlenecks in Austria and Germany.

The website for the Ukrainian Hydrogen Council has been updated as of June 20 with more details about the Blue Danube and sustainable H2 projects.

Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.

Image: courtesy of Verbund.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

Tina Casey has 3239 posts and counting. See all posts by Tina Casey