25 Jan 2024, 13:10
Benjamin Wehrmann

Railroad transport of Germany’s hydrogen imports a key component of cost-efficient industry – report

Clean Energy Wire

Trains could play a key role in ensuring a comprehensive transport network for distributing imported green hydrogen across Germany, a report by research institute Fraunhofer IEG on the country’s hydrogen supply options has found. The researchers found that pipelines starting at an import hub are the overall most cost-efficient way for distributing hydrogen to customers connected to the planned core grid, which is assumed to be fully operational no later than 2035. However, ‘smaller users’ that will not yet have access to the grid by that year could be supplied by trains as well as through shipping on inland waterways. “The amount of hydrogen than can be transported in one fully loaded cargo train exceeds the daily demand multiple times at 95 percent of the locations examined in the study,” Fraunhofer IEG said. A targeted expansion and retrofitting of Germany’s railway network thus must be made part of the country’s hydrogen industry buildout in the next years, the researchers stressed. As rail-based transportation of fossil fuels is expected to decline significantly in the coming years, especially for coal, vacant transport capacity in the extensive railroad network could become especially important in ensuring comprehensive supply security in the hydrogen industry’s early stages. However, the study also found that domestic transportation of green hydrogen will only constitute a small fraction (5 percent) of the total bill for supplying the climate-neutral fuel.

Based on Germany’s National Hydrogen Strategy, the total demand by the middle of the next decade is assumed to range between 95 and 130 terawatt hours. Besides pipeline-based imports from other European countries, importing shipped hydrogen derivatives, such as ammonia, is expected to become a pillar of the country’s budding hydrogen industry. Hydrogen derivatives could either act as an energy carrier for later reconversion or be transported directly to industry facilities, for example for producing basic chemicals or aviation fuel. Inland shipping will likely play an important role in this regard, the researchers found. However, a separate pipeline network that can carry these products — as well as the establishment of a parallel CO2 storage infrastructure — should be considered early on in the further development of the hydrogen strategy, Fraunhofer IEG said.

The government expects to cover up to 70 percent of its 2030 hydrogen demand with imports, including derivatives. The country’s hydrogen core grid with a length of nearly 10,000 kilometres is planned to be operational by 2032. While a feasibility study commissioned by the Federation of German Industries (BDI) from 2022 revealed that Germany should be able to import green hydrogen at competitive prices from production locations as distant as Australia, there are still considerable doubts regarding the final costs and remaining technical hurdles for ship-based imports.

All texts created by the Clean Energy Wire are available under a “Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence (CC BY 4.0)” . They can be copied, shared and made publicly accessible by users so long as they give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made.
« previous news next news »


Researching a story? Drop CLEW a line or give us a call for background material and contacts.

+49 30 62858 497

Journalism for the energy transition

Get our Newsletter
Join our Network
Find an interviewee