With the successive introduction of measures to address climate change in various countries, especially China, Japan, South Korea, and many European countries have proposed the goal of achieving carbon neutrality by the middle of this century, hydrogen, the future green fuel, is being sought after by all countries. Since 2020, green hydrogen projects with a total value of more than 150 billion US dollars have been announced globally. The European Hydrogen Energy Organization predicts that the annual turnover of the global hydrogen industry will reach 700 billion U.S. dollars by 2050. The Russian Ministry of Finance estimates that the annual global hydrogen energy consumption will reach 150 million to 160 million tons.
In response to the energy transition brought about by decarbonization, major oil and gas exporting countries have successively formulated policies to develop hydrogen energy production and exports. Russia, which uses the energy industry as its economic lifeline and the main source of fiscal revenue, has also stepped up its deployment in the development of the hydrogen energy industry, trying to deal with the multiple challenges brought about by the energy transition, avoid repeating the mistakes of ignoring the “shale revolution”, and seize the new one. We will take the initiative to transform the energy industry and strive to defend its position as a major energy exporter in the world under the sluggish oil and gas market.
In June 2020, the Russian government issued the “Energy Strategy for 2035”, proposing hydrogen energy as a key direction of “resource innovative development”, and proposed the goal of hydrogen energy exports to reach 200,000 tons by 2024 and 2 million tons by 2035. In July, the Russian Ministry of Energy issued the “Hydrogen Energy Industry Development Plan”, proposing that Russia will mainly follow the basic idea of using methane, the main component of natural gas, to produce hydrogen. The cost of producing hydrogen from natural gas is low, which is only 1/4 or even 1/5 of the cost of producing green hydrogen through the electrolysis of water from renewable energy.
In September 2020, the Russian Ministry of Energy announced the draft “Roadmap for Hydrogen Energy Development in Russia from 2020 to 2024”, which plans to build a full hydrogen energy industry chain led by traditional energy companies by 2024. In the manufacturing field, the focus is on blue hydrogen prepared from natural gas and yellow hydrogen obtained through nuclear power hydrolysis, rather than green hydrogen. In addition to Gazprom (Gazprom), Gazprom and Novatek will also start hydrogen production projects. In the application link, Gazprom will start to build and test turbines powered by natural gas for hydrogen production in 2021, and start producing hydrogen in 2024 and study different applications of hydrogen as a fuel. The Russian Atomic Energy Group will be responsible for the hydrogen-powered manned train pilot project, which will begin testing as early as 2024. In the transportation link, Russia plans to build a hydrogen pipeline network by adding hydrogen to the natural gas pipeline network and transforming existing natural gas pipelines. In particular, it is necessary to use the “Beixi-2” natural gas pipeline to transport hydrogen to Europe in order to increase the profitability of the pipeline. Gazprom estimates that the transmission of hydrogen through this pipeline can reach up to 70% of its designed gas capacity. In the export link, Europe has always been Russia’s most important energy export market. The EU’s energy transition has increased Russia’s interest in hydrogen energy. Gazprom estimates that the European hydrogen energy market will be approximately 154 billion euros in 2050. In the near to mid-term, the main direction of Russian hydrogen energy exports is still European countries. On December 1, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak stated that Russia and Germany are studying various ways of cooperation in the field of hydrogen energy and establishing a hydrogen energy partnership. The proposal submitted by the German-Russian Chamber of Commerce to the relevant departments of the two countries in early July 2020 shows that it hopes to use the successful experience of the two countries in the oil and gas industry for many years to carry out close cooperation in the development of hydrogen energy and other climate-friendly technologies. Hydrogen production plant. In terms of scientific research, Russia has relied on the Tomsk University of Technology to establish the country’s first hydrogen production technology development consortium to develop a “hydrogen energy full technology chain”-from gas production to its use.
Despite showing a positive attitude, a series of complex factors will still restrict the long-term development of Russia’s hydrogen energy industry. First, the motivation and incentives for hydrogen energy development are insufficient. Russia has not yet issued an emission reduction plan to 2050, and the government has no incentive to provide large-scale support to the hydrogen energy field. At the commercial level, the demand for hydrogen in Russia is very low, and Russian hydrogen production lacks sufficient domestic market scale. Secondly, due to western economic and financial sanctions and limited financing capacity, Russia lacks the realistic possibility of large-scale investment in the hydrogen energy industry. Third, hydrogen production and transportation technologies face a series of bottlenecks. For example, Russia plans to export hydrogen to Europe by mixing hydrogen in natural gas pipelines and transforming existing natural gas pipelines to build a hydrogen pipeline network. However, the corrosive effect of hydrogen on metals poses a challenge to hydrogen doping in natural gas pipelines. Fourth, the strategic goal of hydrogen energy in European countries, including Germany, is to completely switch to green hydrogen, while Russia’s hydrogen production is dominated by blue and yellow hydrogen, and the production capacity of green hydrogen is limited. Russia’s production of blue and yellow hydrogen will not be in the future. Being able to meet the environmental protection requirements of energy partners, Russia may face strict environmental barriers to the export of hydrogen energy to Europe in the future.
In short, Russia has fully felt the multiple challenges posed by international energy reforms and is stepping up its deployment of hydrogen energy development. However, affected by multiple factors, it will take time to verify whether its ambitious hydrogen energy development can finally become a reality.