Blending hydrogen into the gas network will never be a “mass solution”, although it could be a marginal one, according to Didier Holleaux, president of trade body Eurogas and an executive vice-president at French utility Engie.

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“There is no reason why hydrogen and methane should have the same value on the market. And therefore as soon as you blend them, you destroy value, because you bring the value of the most expensive one to the value of the cheapest one,” he told the Connecting Green Hydrogen Europe conference in Madrid on Wednesday.

“Therefore, I don’t think that blending will ever be a mass solution. It may be a marginal solution if you produce hydrogen in a very remote place and you have no customer, then injecting into the gas network — it’s better than nothing, but I don’t see it as a mass solution.”

Many gas companies want to blend green hydrogen into their networks as a way to reduce emissions, and some have begun doing so.

But as blends of more than 20% H2 are likely to cause problems for gas appliances, and three times as much hydrogen is needed to produce the same amount of heat as gas, emissions cuts would be limited to about 7%. And as green H2 is far more expensive than fossil gas, adding 20% H2 to a network could increase consumer bills by up to 33%.

It has also been criticised for being an extremely wasteful use of renewable energy, which could otherwise produce five to six times more heat per kWh when utilised directly by a heat pump.

Hydrogen blending trials have begun in the US, Netherlands and Germany, with similar pilots being planned as far afield as Australia, India and South Korea, while Portugal is mandating that gas suppliers will have to blend at least 1% renewable H2 — or biomethane — into their networks.

Holleaux also told the conference that fossil gas should maintain a long-term role in the energy system. Although Eurogas’ membership is committed to 55% emissions reduction by 2030 and reaching carbon neutrality between 2045 and 2050, “the issue is not about fossil fuels, the issue is about CO2 being re-emitted in the atmosphere”, he said.

As such, he advocates for “some methane, natural gas plus carbon capture” in the future energy system, although “the bulk… will be replaced by 2045-50, by renewable methane [from biomass or waste gasification or produced synthetically by combining green H2 and captured CO2] and renewable or low-carbon hydrogen”.

Holleaux argued that using methane as a feedstock for H2 production — producing blue hydrogen when utilsing carbon capture and storage — or synthetic methane, would allow the continued use of existing gas infrastructure without needing to build new assets or retrofit pipelines to carry hydrogen.

The EU is currently progressing its so-called “hydrogen and decarbonised gas market” package to increase the proportion of biogas, low-carbon or renewable hydrogen and synthetic methane in Europe’s gas consumption from 5% to around 67%, with the remaining third from fossil gas with carbon capture.

The proposal defines low-carbon fuels and H2 as having 30% of the lifecycle emissions of their current equivalents.

The updated Renewable Energy Directive, meanwhile, mandates that 42.5% of hydrogen used by industry by 2030 must be renewable as well as saving 70% of lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions compared to grey, as defined in the Delegated Acts signed into law last month.

While the updated directive includes a carve-out for industrial use of low-carbon H2 not made from fossil fuels (effectively allowing the use of molecules made using nuclear-powered electrolysis), some industry sources have argued that the delegated acts are unnecessarily restrictive and add to the cost of producing within Europe.

And Holleaux claims these rules will also put Europe at the back of the queue for exports.

“Some potential exporting countries will certainly choose to export to Asia rather than to export to Europe, because Asia will be less demanding in terms of things like additionality, temporal correlation, and so on,” he said.

“Probably, we will have to relax the criteria we have set up, but we will see.”