Huge demand for hydrogen will prompt China to build an integrated pipeline network to move H2 produced in the wind- and solar-power-rich northern and western parts of the country to demand centres in the south and east.

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Li Guohui, vice president of state-owned China Petroleum Pipeline Engineering Corporation (CPPEC), told the World Hydrogen Technology Convention in the city of Foshan, Guangdong province, last week that China expects its total hydrogen demand to grow to 100 million tonnes per annum by 2060.

However, the country’s hydrogen resources tend to be located in the windy and sunny northwest, northeast and midwest regions, which are also key areas for China’s H2-consuming refining and chemical industries, while the demand centres tend to be in the eastern and southern parts, giving rise to the need to move hydrogen — grey or green — to these markets.

Li added that there will be 6,000km of hydrogen pipelines in place by 2050, which would be accessible to H2 asset owners and traders.

But is not clear how such a system would work, as combining grey hydrogen (made largely in China from unabated coal) with renewable H2 in pipelines would largely negate the positive climate impacts of green hydrogen.

One of the pipelines will be built by Sinopec to transport 100,000 tonnes of green hydrogen 400km each year from Ulanqab, Inner Mongolia, to the oil giant’s Yanshan Petrochemical complex in Beijing via nine counties and cities in three provinces.

In March, PetroChina kicked off construction of the country’s first pipeline to transport green hydrogen, produced at the Yumen oilfield it operates in northwestern China’s Gansu province.

The 6km line from a solar-powered electrolysis pilot project to a local petrochemical plant will have a throughput capacity of about 900kg per hour.

According to Li, there are only three existing hydrogen pipelines in China, spanning less than 100km.

Globally, most of the 5,000km of hydrogen pipelines are operated by industrial gases companies Air Liquide, Air Products and Linde.

Other countries, including Germany and the Netherlands, are also planning national H2 pipeline networks.

A version of this article was first published by Hydrogen Insight's sister publication Upstream.