Photo: With large amounts of wind and solar power in hand, Ukraine could become a green hydrogen powerhouse for the EU (courtesy of Razom we Stand).

Hello Europe, Ukraine Has The Green Hydrogen You’re Looking For

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The nations of Europe have been throwing many dollars at the green hydrogen industry, seeking a way to cut imports of natural gas from Russia. However, the EU’s 2030 production goal is sliding out of reach and industry stakeholders are complaining that the stuff is just too expensive, even with subsidies. Into this picture marches Ukraine with a solution — but it will work only if the Russian war machine is stopped in its tracks.

Green Hydrogen For Europe: Too Pricey?

CleanTechnica has been keeping an eye on the green hydrogen goings-on in Europe for about nine years or so, ever since a visit to the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne introduced us to the emerging power-to-gas field. The idea is to pry hydrogen loose from water with electrolysis systems powered by wind, solar, or other renewables, instead of squeezing it out of natural gas or coal. Hydrogen is widely used in industry and agriculture, aside from its potential for decarbonizing transportation.

Things seemed to be moving along in Europe earlier this year, especially in the Baltic region where Baltic Sea offshore wind resources are close at hand. In January, Mitsubishi also announced plans to build the world’s biggest electrolyzer plant in the Netherlands, and last week the Hungarian firm MOL Group hit the start button on a 10-megawatt electrolysis system in Százhalombatta, billed as the largest of its kind in the region.

Green hydrogen from that facility will help reduce fossil fuel consumption at MOL’s sprawling Danube refinery, helping the company tidy up around the edges of its carbon footprint. “The new technology will gradually replace the natural gas-based production process, which currently accounts for one sixth of the MOL Group’s total carbon dioxide emissions,” MOL explained.

So much for the good news. On the down side, in January the leading green hydrogen stakeholder Fortescue opined that Europe’s sustainable H2 industry can’t compete with other parts of the world on cost. The steelmaker ArcelorMittal also let it be known that the company can’t make steel in Europe with European green hydrogen.

The news organization Hydrogen Insight got the ArcelorMittal scoop from the Dutch magazine Trends, which cited the head of the company’s European branch, Geert van Poelvoorde. “We already know that hydrogen will be expensive in Europe,” van Poelvoorde said. “We will not be able to use it because we would catapult ourselves completely out of the market.”

Meanwhile, in March Bloomberg cited the CEO of the French utility ENGIE, Catherine MacGregor, who told a gathering of journalists that the company has “an issue with the regulation, with the economics, and an issue in terms of reliability when it comes to building electrolyzers at scale,” making it likely that the EU will miss the goal of installing 40 gigawatts’ worth of electrolyzers by 2030.

Russia Licks Its LNG Chops

With green hydrogen off to a rocky start in Europe, the goal of prying loose from dependence on Russian gas seems farther away than ever. US gas producers have been lobbying for permission to increase exports of liquid natural gas (LNG) to Europe, but apparently Russia has beat them to the punch.

Earlier this month, Reuters took a deep dive into the situation and noted that international sanctions against Russian gas and the blow-up of the infamous Russian gas pipeline Nordstream forced Europe to scramble for alternative supplies. Nevertheless, the sanctions left a couple of huge loopholes, and Russian LNG gas suppliers have jumped into the breach.

“A Reuters analysis of data found more than a tenth of the Russian gas formerly shipped by pipeline to the European Union has been replaced by LNG delivered into EU ports,” the news organization reported on April 3.

“The rise is partly the result of discounts, industry and trading sources say,” they added.

Reuters also noted that EU countries can legally and voluntarily ban Russian LNG ships from their port facilities as of April 1, but the leading importers — Spain and Belgium — have already nixed the idea unless it applies all across the EU.

Ukraine To Rest Of Europe: We Have Your Green Hydrogen

In the Trends interview, AcelorMittal’s Geert van Poelvoorde hinted that the company could deploy an alternative pathway to decarbonize its European business, by importing Direct Reduced Iron (DRI) processed with green hydrogen. The US is among the countries supporting new green hydrogen-based DRI systems, with the aim of reducing emissions by 81%.

Another solution would be to import more green hydrogen, and that appears to be in the works.

A quick search of the Intertubes reveals Nambia, Mauritania, and India being talked up as exporters of green hydrogen, green metals, or both to Europe. Plans for sustainable H2 industries in Nambia and Mauritania are new to the CleanTechnica radar, but we have taken note of India’s ambition to establish itself as a global hydrogen hub.

Meanwhile, a handy supplier of green hydrogen is sitting right there at the EU doorstep, in the form of Ukraine. CleanTechnica caught wind of the plan back in 2022, which involves harnessing Ukraine’s copious wind and solar resources. By May of 2023, Ukraine was already plotting out the course for a collaborative hydrogen network with Europe as part of a more resilient, decentralized grid modernization plan (see more Ukraine news from CleanTechnica here).

More recently, on March 11 of this year Clean Energy Wire reported on plans to establish a hydrogen network with Europe. The plan is strongly supported by Germany’s National Hydrogen Council. Clean Energy Wire cited National Hydrogen Council co-leader council co-leader Felix Matthes, who observed that hydrogen exports from Ukraine to Europe would play a key role. “On the way into the European Union, the EU and Ukraine should follow a strategy of a comprehensive Ukrainian Green Deal,” Matthes said.

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Razom We Stand Bites Back

The cooperative outlook between Ukraine and other European nations adds further validation to the efforts of the Ukrainian clean energy organization Razom We Stand, which advocates for a meaningful ban on Russian gas and oil imports to Europe, along with a green post-war recovery for Ukraine.

In an Earth Day 2024 message emailed to CleanTechnica, Razom We Stand re-affirmed the case for renewable energy as a matter of national security and peaceful coexistence.

“Instead of perpetuating the cycle of violence by purchasing fossil fuels that fund Russian war crimes in Ukraine, world leaders must seize the opportunity to support Ukraine’s green energy transition,” Razom founder and Director Svitlana Romanko emphasized.

“Without global leaders finally banning Russian LNG gas, pipeline oil, closing the refining loophole and tightening the price cap policy, many nations will continue to hand over money to fuel the Kremlin’s war chest,” she pointed out.

Romanko also cited a figure of $400 billion as the potential value of Ukrainian clean electricity to Europe, compared to an estimated cost of $10.7-12.9 billion to repair the country’s power infrastructure after years of war.

If all goes according to plan, Ukraine would also be a model for efforts in other nations. Ukraine would be “the world’s first post-war country rebuilt on renewable energy, setting a global precedent for infrastructure-centred climate actions,” Romanko concluded.

As for the role of green hydrogen specifically in Ukraine’s post-war recovery, that depends on the cost of electrolyzer systems and renewable energy, among other factors. That also depends on whether Ukraine recovers as a vanquished nation tied to Russia’s fossil energy economy, or as an independent nation poised to share its vast renewable energy resources with the EU.

Helping matters along on the EU side, over the weekend a sufficient number of Republican members of the US House of Representatives finally broke from the Russia-friendly contingent of their party to join with the Democratic side of the aisle and pass a much-delayed aid package for Ukraine. If you have any thoughts about that, drop us a note in the comment thread.

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Photo: With large amounts of wind and solar power in hand, Ukraine could become a green hydrogen powerhouse for the EU (courtesy of Razom we Stand).

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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.

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