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Germany and Norway reach blue hydrogen agreement

January 5, 2023

Germany's RWE and Norway's Equinor have agreed to supply Germany with low-emissions hydrogen fuel. The long-term plan is to provide 100% cleanly sourced green hydrogen.

German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck shaking hands with Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store
German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck (left) is in Norway for two days of meetings, including with Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store (right)Image: picture alliance/dpa

The leading energy production companies from Norway and Germany agreed on Thursday to set up facilities to provide Germany with blue hydrogen, during a visit to Oslo by German Economy Minister Robert Habeck.

Norway's state-run Equinor and Germany's RWE will invest in new power plants in Germany that will initially burn Norwegian natural gas but will eventually move over to low-carbon blue hydrogen, and finally zero-emissions green hydrogen.

The agreement is dependent on a hydrogen pipeline that is currently being considered by the two partners as well as the Norwegian gas system operator Gassco.

"We need plants that are ready for hydrogen ... this decarbonized hydrogen should come from Norway," Habeck said in a joint press conference with Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere in Oslo.

What is blue hydrogen?

For years, the prospect of clean hydrogen fuel — which emits mostly water vapor when burned — has excited those hoping to abandon fossil fuels.

However, the production of completely clean "green" hydrogen, which is separated from water with power generated by clean renewables such as solar and wind, is not currently viable at a large scale.

The alternative "blue" hydrogen, which is produced by burning gas, remains a cheaper option and aims to capture and store more than 95% of emissions.

World's first hydrogen train runs in Germany

Norway has become one of Germany's biggest suppliers of gas following the closure of Russian gas pipelines amid the war in Ukraine. Berlin is hoping that Norway can also provide it with clean hydrogen.

"There is an urgent need for a rapid ramp up of the hydrogen economy," RWE Chief Executive Markus Krebber said in the statement announcing the deal.

"Blue hydrogen in large quantities can make a start, with subsequent conversion into green hydrogen supply," he added.

Environmentalists demand more green energy

Environmental groups have warned that the development of blue hydrogen facilities is a step in the wrong direction due to their reliance on natural gas.

"If we want to put the energy crisis behind us for good, then we need a progressive green energy supply," head of the Environmental Action Germany (DUH) Sascha Müller-Kraenner said on Thursday.

"Importing blue hydrogen would, however, be a further step backwards to a fossil-fueled past," she added.

How close is Germany to 'green' hydrogen?

The DUH also protested the arrival of the first regular tanker bringing liquified natural gas (LNG) to Germany that arrived at the port of Wilhelmshaven on Tuesday.

Habeck's Green party, one of the three parties in the ruling coalition, has come under fire from its own supporters for promoting LNG as an alternative to Russian gas, as well as permitting the continued burning of coal.

Climate activists occupying the abandoned village of Lützerath in western Germany faced off against police on Thursday who have been sent to clear the village so that it can be ripped up for the expansion of a nearby open-pit coal mine.

ab/wmr (Reuters, dpa)