IIDMA challenges the technical feasibility of the H2Med and warns about its socio-environmental impacts

  • The International Institute for Law and the Environment has presented this Thursday, March 16, allegations to the European Projects of Common Interest list, requesting to exclude the hydrogen corridor H2Med.
  • The current production of green hydrogen in Spain and the uncertain future production, as well as the lack of information regarding the technical feasibility of the H2Med, does not justify its construction.
  • The production of green hydrogen requires large amounts of electricity generated from renewable resources. It is therefore necessary to first ensure that the deployment of these renewables does not lead to adverse impacts on the environment and biodiversity.

March 16, 2023 -The H2Med Project has been presented to the call for the European Projects of Common Interest (PCIs) as the most extended hydrogen corridor of the European Union, that would enable the replacement of fossil fuels in several economic sectors. However, the International Institute for Law and the Environment (IIDMA) has argued against the sustainability of the H2Med Project in the allegations presented to the PCIs list, whose public consultation deadline was this Thursday the 16th of March. IIDMA sustains that the H2Med is far from being an ally in the fight against climate change and that its construction and in the PCIs list is not justified.

The H2Med project includes two transboundary interconnections that would enable the transfer of hydrogen from the Iberian Peninsula to France. The first pipeline would connect Spain and Portugal by land (H2Med-CelZa project), while the second pipeline would be a submarine interconnection between Spain and France (H2Med-BarMar project).

Unrealistic perspectives

In its allegations, IIDMA claims that the current production of green hydrogen in Spain and the uncertainty regarding future production does not justify the construction of the H2Med. As IIDMA´s lawyer Quentin Aubineau explains, “Spain produces nearly 500.000 tons of hydrogen annually, of which only 50 are green hydrogen, an unrealistic level of production. Given current production forecasts and the absence of a study analysing future projections for green hydrogen demand before the presentation of the project, the construction of the H2Med, as well as the concession of a PCIs status, find no logical basis.

IIDMA also emphasizes that the technical feasibility of the H2Med-BarMar project has not been demonstrated, given that the sector is yet to prepare a technical recommendation guide examining the most optimal design of submarines pipelines to guarantee the efficiency and security of the infrastructure.

Furthermore, the construction of the H2Med contemplates the possibility of reutilizing existing gas pipelines. In this regard, IIDMA warns that the technologies to adjust gas pipelines to hydrogen transport are not developed on a large scale and are not as adaptable as the industry makes us believe. “In fact, hydrogen features are different from fossil gas, which implies a higher risk of leakage through small openings and holes. These leaks of hydrogen emissions can indirectly produce warming effects 11 times worse than those of CO2,” said Carlota Ruiz-Bautista, a lawyer at IIDMA.

Prioritizing local production and consumption

As for hydrogen production, IIDMA stresses the importance of it taking place close to the sites where it is consumed, given the difficulties associated with its long-distance transport from an economic, technical and energy efficiency perspective. “Large transport infrastructures such as H2Med run the risk of not being necessary in the future, becoming oversized and not responding to the needs of the energy transition,” added IIDMA lawyer Massimiliano Patierno.

IIDMA also highlights that the development and introduction of green hydrogen should aim to displace the use of the current hydrogen of fossil origin, thus prioritizing the decarbonization of those sectors that traditionally consume hydrogen and that already have infrastructures adapted for it use, as is the case of the refinery sector and the chemical industry. Any new uses for hydrogen should be limited to sectors that are difficult to electrify, such as heavy road transport, shipping and aviation.

Regarding public grants, such as that foreseen for PCI projects, IIDMA considers that they should only be implemented to support green hydrogen projects, excluding all those that somehow favor the production of non-renewable hydrogen. The H2Med project refers to “low-emission” hydrogen, which is not entirely carbon neutral. It is therefore important to ensure that, when green hydrogen infrastructures are developed, they are used exclusively for this type of hydrogen.

Impacts on local populations and ecosystems

The production of green hydrogen requires large amounts of electricity to be used in electrolyzers, which will be generated mainly through large-scale deployment of renewable energy projects. IIDMA argues that this deployment may not only lead to adverse impacts on the environment and biodiversity, but could also spark opposition in rural areas, mainly due to the lack of prior dialogue with the affected communities.

Moreover, if the production of green hydrogen is carried out with natural sources of water, water scarcity and drought problems could occur in certain territories, thus affecting the local population and destroying ecosystems.

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