The EU has been scrambling to untangle itself from Russian gas, and the latest development is a big one. Six Baltic states are collaborating on a new project called the Nordic-Baltic Hydrogen Corridor. If all goes according to plan, they will tap the Baltic sea for wind power to generate green hydrogen, aimed at decarbonizing industrial clusters within their borders and on into central Europe.
Russia Missed The Green Hydrogen Boat
St. Petersburg is Russia’s best-known Baltic Sea city, but the country also holds a prime sliver of the Baltic Sea coast within the EU, at Kaliningrad Oblast. A relic of post-World War II geopolitics, Kaliningrad is not physically connected to the rest of Russia. The EU states of Poland and Lithuania completely surround it on all three landward points of the compass. Further separating Kaliningrad from a direct landline to Russia is Belarus, to the east of Lithuania and Poland.
All things being equal, Kaliningrad gives Russia the opportunity to engage with the EU through the growing Baltic Sea offshore wind industry. In turn, the wind industry provides an anchor for the emerging green hydrogen, green ammonia and electrofuels markets.
However, all things are not equal. Despite its vast renewable energy resources, Russia remained stuck on the fossil energy track up to and including construction of the new Nordstream II gas pipeline, aimed at cementing its domination of the EU gas supply.
In 2018 the US Department of Energy warned Russia that the US would take action if Nordstream II was weaponized against the EU. That may have seemed an empty threat at the time, considering former President Trump’s reportedly close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in addition to the former President’s repeated threats to pull the US out of NATO.
Well, that was then. Since President Biden took office in 2021, the US reaffirmed the NATO alliance, Putin launched his murderous rampage through Ukraine, somebody blew up Nordstream II, Trump is facing the strong possibility of criminal charges for his alleged role in the failed insurrection of January 6, and Russia has zero chance of participating in the sparkling green hydrogen-fueled EU economy of the future any time soon.
More Green Hydrogen From The Baltic Sea
What Russia does have is the main base for the Baltic Fleet of the Russian Navy, at the seaport town of Baltiysk in Kaliningrad Oblast.
That could complicate things for EU states seeking to kickstart an offshore wind industry in the Baltic Sea. Russia has capably demonstrated its ability to weaponize energy resources in its unprovoked war against Ukraine, and the Baltic Fleet also has access to the Baltic Sea through its secondary base at St. Petersburg. Unlike the Baltiysk base, St. Petersburg is firmly connected to the rest of Russia by land.
Nevertheless, the new Nordic-Baltic Hydrogen Corridor is forging ahead. The plan brings together transmission system operators in Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Germany.
“The TSOs have initiated a project called Nordic-Baltic Hydrogen Corridor that will strengthen region’s energy security, reduce the dependency of imported fossil energy and play a prominent role in decarbonising societies and energy-intensive industries along the corridor,” explains Gasgrid Finland, in a thinly veiled jab at Putin.
“The project strongly supports EU hydrogen strategy and REPowerEU plan,” adds Gasgrid. “In addition, the Nordic-Baltic Hydrogen Corridor will support several regional and EU climate targets, such as the EU Green Deal, Fit for 55 package.”
Along with to Gasgrid, the transmission system operators are Elering of Estonia, Conexus Baltic Grid of Latvia, Amber Grid of Lithuania, GAZ-SYSTEM of Poland and ONTRAS of Germany.
The Tip Of The Decarbonization Iceberg
News of the Nordic-Baltic Hydrogen Corridor lit up the Intertubes last week, even though the project is far from realization. The partners won’t know if the plan makes any sense until a pre-feasibility study is conducted, which will likely take up most of next year.
Meanwhile, Germany is already working on a plan that involves connecting its energy-hungry market with Baltic Sea green hydrogen resources from Denmark, where energy demand is low. Sweden is also planning to tap its Baltic territory for offshore wind turbines, with an eye on the electrofuels market.
Elsewhere in Europe, Scotland is among the nations seeking opportunities to piggyback green hydrogen production on offshore wind farms. Ukraine is also planning to leverage its green hydrogen potential to position itself as an economic asset, strengthening its case for admission to the EU.
A Green Future For…Russia?
Interest in renewable H2 is also accelerating in other spots around the globe, and that has significant implications for natural gas stakeholders.
Natural gas is the primary source of hydrogen in the global economy, along with other fossil sources. A more sustainable H2 supply chain could push natural gas out of the picture, but that depends on whether or not the growth of the green hydrogen industry can counterbalance, let alone overwhelm, the growing demand for hydrogen in the global economy.
Hydrogen is already ubiquitous throughout modern economies, and the use cases are many. In addition to its use as a fuel, hydrogen is the main ingredient in ammonia fertilizer and many other products, from processed foods to toiletries and pharmaceuticals.
However, hope springs eternal. Last June, the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Solutions Network ran the numbers on Russia and came up with a pathway for replacing the country’s fossil energy exports with green hydrogen.
“Excess renewable energy capacity, far exceeding the final demand for electricity, allows for the export of green energy due to the conversion of electricity into hydrogen,” SDSN explained, citing a new analysis from the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, which is their co-host in Russia.
“According to the analysis of RANEPA, the Russian economy can achieve 100% decarbonization using a wide range of possible combinations of wind and solar power generation, coupled with green hydrogen production,” SDSN said.
“Successfully transitioning to a low-carbon economy will require unprecedented global cooperation, including a global cooperative effort to accelerate the development and diffusion of some key low-carbon technologies,” they added.
And, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride. At the moment, Russia seems disinclined to engage in any form of global cooperation.
Last August, our friends over at S&P Global also noted that Russia is beginning to dip a toe into the waters of green hydrogen, but its attention is mainly focused on tapping its natural gas reserves to produce hydrogen for export.
That might do for now, but soon or later gas stakeholders will have to adjust to new competition within a diversified hydrogen supply chain.
Aside from water electrolysis systems powered by wind and solar energy, other emerging sources for hydrogen include biogas, wastewater, and plastic trash.
Image (cropped): Sustainable H2 transportation network courtesy of Gasgrid Finland.
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Source: Clean Technica