Hydrogen for a decarbonised Europe: Germany and Russia want to develop future technologies together


Excerpt from an article in „g”, a specialised magazine of the German gas industry.

Wintershall Dea Hero Partner Hydrogen
Wintershall Dea Hero Partner Hydrogen
Wintershall Dea/Heiko Meyer

The 1970s saw the first gas pipeline deals between Germany and Russia. These days, they look to hydrogen for the future.

Partners for decades

Germany and Russia have been bound by a close and trusting energy partnership for decades. Immediately after the German reunification, leading energy companies on both sides reached an agreement on the rapid expansion of natural gas and oil pipelines. Over the last 30 years, a high-performance network has been built that makes a substantial contribution to Germany’s energy supplies. Since 2011, the pipelines through the Baltic Sea have even created a direct link to Russia. But the cooperation goes back even further. Even in the 1970s, when Germany and Europe were still divided, the German government agreed on a series of natural gas pipeline deals with the Soviet Union. German Federal Republic supplied large-diameter pipes and received natural gas in return. Relations between East Germany and the Soviet Union were closer still. The economy directly depended on supplies of natural gas and oil from the USSR. The connection was symbolised in the joint construction of the Druzhba (“Friendship”) pipeline, for which the GDR also built a section on its own in the mid-1970s.

“We have been developing reliable economic relations with Russia in the energy industry over many decades. Relations that are tried and tested,” Thilo Wieland, Member of the Board at Wintershall Dea responsible for Russia, explains. “Like many other German and European enterprises, Wintershall Dea cultivates these relations through joint projects. In doing so, they contribute to a transfer of technology and knowledge as well as to a reliable energy supply. With growing climate protection requirements, the German-Russian energy partnership faces new challenges. Decarbonisation is the key word that determines our joint endeavours,” Thilo Wieland continues.

A first step towards the future

The first visual sign of enhanced cooperation was the founding of the Hydrogen Action Group, chaired by Torsten Murin, under the umbrella of the German-Russian Chamber of Commerce (AHK) in September 2020. It serves as a platform for dialogue between German and Russian businesses and is intended to promote and increase mutual exchanges. “One of our main aims is to create and promote more favourable conditions for hydrogen partnerships and to support initiatives that benefit both sides. These might be the international recognition of carbon certificates  or the development of shared sets of rules and standards in the area of hydrogen. Furthermore, we advocate for the integration and participation of Russian hydrogen projects within German and EU funding mechanisms, particularly H2Global,” Murin explains.

In recent months, the action group has also looked at the production, transportation, storage and industrial applications of hydrogen in order to identify initial options for setting up a German-Russian pilot project. The detailed analysis has revealed the production of different types of low-carbon hydrogen (green, blue and turquoise) as a particularly promising area of cooperation. This could facilitate the rapid and economically viable ramping up of the hydrogen market in Germany. According to Murin, one should never lose sight of the fact “that temporarily natural gas will remain a key component of the energy mix, at the same time as both Europe and Russia have begun to forge a path towards serious reductions in their markets’ carbon emissions.” The new hydrogen generation technologies would  integrate both approaches efficiently and harmoniously. Industry also regards German-Russian cooperation on the area of hydrogen as positive. Back in 2019 the German-Russian Raw Materials-Forum (DRRF), in cooperation with the German Energy Agency (dena), set up the “Hydrogen and New Gases” working group which focuses primarily on clearing up scientific and technical questions in preparation for practical cooperation on hydrogen. The German-Russian Hydrogen conference, organised by the DRRF in December 2020, looked at approaches to resolving the technical challenges and was well attended by academics from both countries. As Yana Zabanova and Kirsten Westphal of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) wrote in their analytical article “Russia in the global hydrogen race – reflections on German-Russian hydrogen cooperation”, “Germany could play a prominent, strategically important role in supporting Russia’s adjustment to a decarbonising Europe. A German-Russian hydrogen partnership could prove decisive in terms of researching, innovating and scaling-up technologies.” 

This text has been translated into English from an extract of an article published in the journal "g" (2/2021). The full German version of the article can be found here.

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