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Gas Networks Ireland envisages that by 2040, Ireland will join the European hydrogen backbone.

By Callum Cyrus

Gas Networks Ireland has signed up to an initiative backed by European transmission system operators to establish an infrastructure network for hydrogen, the company reported on June 9.

The European Hydrogen Backbone programme involves creating a 53,000 km hydrogen network by 2040, forming five large-scale corridors with a multitude of branch pipelines, each connecting clusters of supply and demand within domestic EU markets. The backbone will mainly rely on existing natural gas infrastructure, and could eventually expand to connect different European markets with each other, increasing hydrogen export potential.

With the UK having exited the EU, the five corridors will initially span mainland Europe, aiming to meet Europe's accelerated 2030 hydrogen goals. However GNI envisages that by 2040, Ireland would join the backbone, using an existing subsea pipeline to Scotland's Moffat natural gas interconnector. 

Repurposed gas pipelines such as these will account for 60% of the new backbone across the EU, with only 40% of pipelines newly built, specifically for hydrogen.

Leveraging the system could help Irish energy suppliers maximise the benefits of an anticipated wind power surge. As well as supporting hydrogen exports, the EU report suggests Ireland's wind generation section would benefit from having a hydrogen base load as an option, as an alternative to natural gas. An area around the city of Cork is set to become a focal point for the hydrogen industry.

From the EU's perspective, building the new corridors is a considerable task. Not only does it require the technical expertise to leverage both new and repurposed hydrogen infrastructure, but it will also involve fast-track financing, simplified planning applications, and the creation of an integrated energy system planning framework.

The programme should ultimately help Ireland achieve its 2050 climate action targets, according to David Kelly, GNI's director of customer and business development. And the official European Hydrogen Backbone report says green hydrogen could one day complement natural gas in Irish power plants.

"Ireland's gas network is a national decarbonisation solution of size and scale," Kelly said."Mapping the five corridors in the new pan-European backbone will create more certainty about the deployment of this new hydrogen infrastructure, which will in turn enable key stakeholders in the market to develop supply and demand more rapidly.

"We want to talk to all the relevant stakeholders in Ireland in relation to the development of indigenous hydrogen market, including shippers, policymakers, investors and anyone else who is interested in helping to expand the sector."