China’s first long-distance hydrogen pipeline

Sinopec, the largest oil refiner and fuel supplier in China, has revealed a plan to build a pipeline to carry green hydrogen – made with renewable energy – from Inner Mongolia to Beijing.

Today, China has only 100 km of hydrogen pipelines in operation, according to an International Energy Agency report, while the US has 2,600 km and Europe 2,000 km.

Sinopec’s plan, published on 10 April, states that the pipeline will be cheaper and more efficient than trucking, which is how most hydrogen is shifted in China. Several ports will be created along the roughly 400 km line so other potential hydrogen sources can be fed in. 

There has long been a discrepancy between the refuelling demand in the east of China and the potential supply of green hydrogen in the west, where renewable power is most abundant. 

Sinopec believes “the pipeline will greatly relieve the nation’s green hydrogen demand–supply mismatch”. It will replace the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region’s fossil fuel based hydrogen production, helping to meet climate goals in the region, it adds. 

Last year, the central government released its first long-term plan for hydrogen. By 2025 it envisages China producing 100,000 to 200,000 tonnes of green hydrogen annually, with about 50,000 hydrogen-fuelled vehicles on the roads. 

The country currently produces 33 million tonnes of hydrogen per year, about 80% of it generated using coal and natural gas, according to the government.

The official data does not include green hydrogen output. But consultancy Energy Iceberg has estimated it at under 27,000 tonnes per year.

Sinopec has not given a timeline for finishing the project, which will be China’s first long-distance hydrogen pipeline. It says progress has already been made in “routing and site selection, technical breakthroughs, and engineering construction plans”.

In the first phase, the company expects the pipeline to have a capacity of about 100,000 tonnes of hydrogen per year, which would potentially increase to 500,000 tonnes in the long run. 

Read China Dialogue’s article on the potential of hydrogen produced using industrial by-products.