Hardly any other energy project is currently the subject of geostrategic questions like Nord Stream 2, the pipeline between Russia and Germany.

Nord Stream 2 is a synonym for a political project that was initiated by powerful people obviously against the interests of many European countries.

At the same time, it interferes with the US attempts to contain Russia’s global energy influence, especially towards Europe, and additionally hinders the roll-out of the American shale gas offensive, which is to be delivered as liquified natural gas (LNG). The project divides Europeans, it revives historical suspicions and, finally, it is also about the increasingly important energy resilience. 

How would the European public discuss the pipeline if the project was not about natural gas?

Would European politicians still be so negative about hydrogen being transported via this pipeline instead of natural gas?

Let’s assume that the countries bordering the Baltic Sea would also have access to the pipeline and could supply them with locally produced, clean hydrogen. Could the pipeline be converted for hydrogen?

Obviously, state-of-the-art technology has been used and the pipeline can transport up to 80% hydrogen. It is the compressors that would have to be adapted, which means 20% in additional costs.

However, Russia officially announced last week that it would adapt its energy supply to Europe’s needs and to the European hydrogen strategy.

BNEF estimates the theoretical maximum value for global H2 demand at 1.4 billion tons per annum (btpa) by 2050, 20 times larger than the current demand. However, even with strong policy support, it is more likely that demand will be 700 million tons per annum by 2050, which BNEF says is 10 times the current demand.

Any clean hydrogen is welcome, where clean means not exceeding a certain threshold of carbon content defined by the EU taxonomy. The most promising technologies for clean hydrogen production are renewable energies, which could be built in the Baltic Sea, but also on the vast Russian territory. Consider that Russia has some of the highest shallow-water offshore wind potential in Europe.

Another promising technology is pyrolysis, which breaks down natural gas into pure hydrogen and solid carbon, with no emissions because there is no oxygen. It could serve as a feedstock for many products such as carbon fibres, graphite for EV batteries and graphene. Pyrolysis technology will take a few more years to reach the same maturity as electrolysis, but not necessarily more than five years.

At the same time, many European countries and EU member states are preparing their own national hydrogen strategies. The countries bordering the Baltic Sea could use the pipeline for their own energy needs as well as feed produced hydrogen into the pipeline. This would make it a truly European project that also serves the core values of the European Green Deal. Ultimately, this helps to establish the hydrogen economy and a net-zero carbon society faster and at an affordable cost.

It needs, however. to be put on the political agenda. The various European partners need to agree on the need to move towards hydrogen. The example of Nordstream 2 shows that hydrogen has become a geostrategic issue. It could lead to new interdependencies in the energy context and help to smooth out the threat of resilience in the European energy supply. What if the pipeline project were to become a hydrogen project? It would dramatically change the acceptance and political feasibility.

The EU assumes that every €1 billion invested in H2 will create 10,570 new jobs. Taking the range of €180 to €470 billion in planned investments by 2050, this would mean 2 million to 5 million new jobs.