HySupply – German-Australian hydrogen bridge

By Iryna Nesterenko

June 10, 2024

Image titel: HySupply/BMBF delegation at Fortescue Future Industries on May 25, 2022 in Hazelmere, Perth

Sources: BMBF

HySupply – German-Australian hydrogen bridge

Acatech and BDI show what’s feasible

Defossilizing the energy system is an important goal of the clean energy transition – importing green hydrogen a possible option for this. The cooperation project HySupply from the national academy Acatech and the national association Bundesverband der deutschen Industrie (BDI) has therefore examined the feasibility of a German-Australian hydrogen bridge. The result: The production and transport of hydrogen and hydrogen derivatives from Australia to Germany are technically, economically and legally possible. A crucial question here: How could domestic imports be distributed in an economically and technically sensible way?


Energy imports are a constant staple for the German energy supply. While they have largely concentrated on energy sources of fossil origin such as natural gas and crude oil, they could soon be expanded to include an alternative energy source: green hydrogen. According to the target picture contained in the update of the German hydrogen strategy, the total hydrogen demand in Germany in 2030 will be between 95 and 130 TWh and can only be covered by imports. Within the next ten years, Australian hydrogen could therefore play a role in the German energy system. But why is Australia, of all places, 14,000 kilometers away, being considered for this?

Making the energy supply stable and resilient
All the preconditions speak in favor: Renewable energies for the production of green hydrogen are abundant in Australia. In addition, the conditions are ideal with regard to a future-proof and reliable supply: “An Australian-German hydrogen bridge promises a stable and mutually beneficial trade relationship between two democratic countries,” states Acatech president Jan Wörner regarding preconditions. “We now have the opportunity to help shape the future hydrogen market and make our innovation location more resilient to dependencies. For this, we need a decided, joint establishment of infrastructures and framework conditions,” he adds.

However, the technology for transporting liquid hydrogen will probably not be available within the next 20 years, stated Robert Schlögl recently in an interview with Deutschlandfunk. He is president of the foundation Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung and an Acatech member. As co-project manager, he has accompanied HySupply since its start in November 2020. These and other challenges in the transportation of liquid hydrogen are the reason why the HySupply feasibility study deals with the import possibilities of H2 derivatives, so ammonia, synthetic natural gas, methanol, Fischer-Tropsch products and LOHCs.

HySupply investigated from the end of 2020 to January 2024 under which technical, economic and legal conditions a German-Australian hydrogen bridge is feasible. The feasibility study funded by the German education ministry (BMBF) was conducted by Acatech (Deutsche Akademie der Technikwissenschaften) and the BDI (Bundesverband der deutschen Industrie). The University of New South Wales (UNSW) led the Australian consortium. This was sponsored by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). Together, the two sides united a unique network of experts from academia and industry to examine the entire value chain.

Transportation and supply routes

Studies in the past have already focused on various aspects of hydrogen imports. What’s special about the present study compiled by the research institute Fraunhofer IEG for HySupply: For the first time, a publication deals explicitly with the last mile, which usually poses the greatest challenges regarding infrastructure – both the technical and economic nature. Robert Schlögl states on the matter: “This study analyzes, evaluates and compares comprehensively and for the first time all major hydrogen derivatives and transport options, from the import hub to the end consumer.”

In total, there are 543 demand locations in Germany that went into this analysis. They were classified according to various use cases and investigated regarding the supply possibilities with hydrogen and its derivatives. Use cases – those are the production of ammonia, steel, petrochemical basic chemicals and synthetic jet fuels. In addition to that are the preparation of process heat in metal production and processing, the manufacture of glass and ceramics and in the paper industry. As transport modes, the study considers inland ship transport, the rail network, the hydrogen core grid and pipelines for other products. For each use case, the study lists the economic advantages and disadvantages of the respective options.

Fig. 2: Overview of the analyzed supply network and distribution of the demand locations, Source: Fraunhofer IEG

Flexibility determines the H2 ramp-up
The H2 core grid plays an important role in supplying industry. The study indicates that all identified locations of potential large-scale hydrogen consumers will be reached by the hydrogen core network in 2035. However: In many cases, the transport of hydrogen (or derivatives) by barge or rail represents a possible alternative or supplement to pipeline-based site supply.

Around eleven percent of the sites lie at a demand of over 500 gigawatt-hours of hydrogen equivalents (GWhHeq). For the most part, they entail uses like the production of basic chemicals and steel and the employment of ammonia and synthetic jet fuels. And 85 percent of the investigated 543 demand locations, in contrast, claim an annual demand of less than 150 GWhHeq. For these cases, the recommended alternative to pipeline-based supply is the provision by barge or rail.

Final study focuses on the year 2035
The national hydrogen strategy includes the installation of a hydrogen core network over 9,000 kilometers long by year 2032. It is intended to connect the major hydrogen feeders with all major consumers. The first phase of the market ramp-up, until 2035, requires the ability to offer answer options to the most important logistics questions. This applies in particular to the distribution options for the imported hydrogen and hydrogen derivatives that are required for the market ramp-up. The final study presented at the end of the project HySupply with the title “Wasserstoff Verteiloptionen 2035” (hydrogen distribution options 2035) therefore focuses precisely on this crucial period up to 2035 and provides an additional outlook for the following ten years up to 2045.

Fig. 3: Cost-optimized supply chains, Source: Fraunhofer IEG

Domestic transport costs only a small proportion of total costs

Between 3,400 and 16,000 euros per tonne of hydrogen equivalent (EUR/tH₂eq): This is how far the range of provisioning costs found in the study extends between the different use cases. In this, the import costs, with a range of 41 to 100 percent, make up the majority, whereas the costs for domestic redistribution, averaging five percent of costs, comes out comparatively low. In the economic evaluation were included the costs for the provision of hydrogen and its derivatives. The specific transport and conversion costs were additionally included.

Fig. 4: Cost model for evaluating the supply chains, Source: Fraunhofer IEG

Karen Pittel, Acatech presidium member and director of the IFO Institute’s center for energy, climate and resources (IFO Zentrum für Energie, Klima und Ressourcen), advocates flexibility in the distribution options: “These alternative distribution options play an important role in supplying the locations with comparatively low demand. They carry the necessary flexibility to come into implementation in the first phase of the market ramp-up. To be able to guarantee this, we should secure and expand the efficiency of the alternative distribution options.”

Nevertheless, the consistent expansion of the hydrogen core grid will play a central role, especially for locations with high demand. The parallel expansion of the various distribution options Robert Schlögl therefore also sees as crucial: “The completion of the hydrogen core network must be vigorously pursued. At the same time, we must also get implemented other tasks such as the expansion of the rail network or the development of CO2 infrastructure.”

Fig. 5: Categories of the modeled supply chain characteristics, Source: Fraunhofer IEG

Recommendations for action regarding hydrogen distribution options by 2035

  • The hydrogen grid must be further expanded. Storage options should be taken into account in the planning process.
  • The existing rail network must be expanded and new routes added.
  • The hydrogen import strategy should soon be published.
  • In the market ramp-up phase, hydrogen derivatives should initially be used as a material and only later as a hydrogen carrier.
  • Pipelines for product transmission should be used in the long term to support the distribution of hydrogen derivatives.
  • Sustainability criteria for the import of carbon-containing hydrogen derivatives should be guaranteed through the establishment of international certification systems.
  • Hydrogen and CO2 infrastructures must be planned together and built taking into account mutual interactions.

Spillmann, T.; Nolden, C.; Ragwitz, M.; Pieton, N.; Sander, P.; Rublack, L. (2024): Wasserstoff-Verteiloptionen 2035. Versorgungsmöglichkeiten von Verbrauchsstandorten in Deutschland mit importiertem Wasserstoff. Cottbus: Fraunhofer-Einrichtung für Energieinfrastrukturen und Geothermie IEG

Iryna Nesterenko, Philipp Stöcker
Both from Acatech – Deutsche Akademie der Technikwissenschaften

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