Germany’s most valuable silent network

Everything is connected with everything else. Be it raw materials, goods or data, they all need to be efficiently networked if they are to make it to their destination. When it comes to transport, the obvious forms that spring to mind are HGVs, rail, ships and aeroplanes. Yet there is another means of transport that works more unobtrusively, but which is nevertheless hugely important for production, supplies and the economy – pipelines. They are the silent network – and they offer a wealth of smart solutions and new possibilities. It is worth taking a closer look at this smart solution to high-cost logistics problems. It is about security of supply for a leading developed country in the face of global competition. It is about the depth of corn roots. It is about infrastructure that takes the strain off infrastructures. It is about quick steps and development of the economy, the climate and the environment in the years to come – and much more besides.

If we consider Germany with regard to pipelines, it all actually begins in the Netherlands and Belgium. Because with Germany being the world’s leading export nation, the vast majority of its supply chains begin with raw materials, and most of these raw materials make their way to us via the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp. Important branches of industry are either directly or indirectly dependent on a continuous flow of supplies. This is the case with regard to, for example, (petro)chemical products such as hydrogen, oxygen, liquefied gases, polymers, nitrogen, brine and natural gas. And these are soon to be joined by increasing volumes of green hydrogen as Germany is switching its production processes to this energy carrier wherever possible and prudent.

In the case of a number of these products, Germany is also close to being the world’s leading importer. The volume of products and materials needed at industrial sites everywhere from Marl Chemical Park in the Ruhr region to far beyond Munich is immense. What’s more, their supply needs to be uninterrupted and of unwaveringly high quality. Logistically speaking, this cannot all be handled using HGVs, rail, ships or even aeroplanes without bringing the remaining traffic on Germany’s roads and rail tracks to a grinding halt. The capacity of European waterways is likewise limited – and is in some cases further limited by environmental influences such as high and low tides.

Pipelines are the answer to the logistics question

When asked about this topic, Daniela Kampmann, Vice President and Head of Pipelines at Evonik, says: ‘Pipeline networks are the smartest and most efficient solution. Pipelines such as those that Evonik plans, builds and also operates for other owners in the chemical and petrochemical industries offer an economically and environmentally sustainable answer to complex logistics questions. With its more than 80 years of experience in this field, Evonik guarantees supply replenishment in Germany thanks to its complex engineering services and approximately 3,000 kilometres of the lowest-emission means of transport – in a petrochemical cluster network together with producers, hauliers and users so that everything is interconnected and therefore highly synergistic.’

For comparison purposes, whereas pipeline transportation generates an average of 5 g of CO2 per tonne-kilometre, rail transport causes 22 g, inland shipping 33 g, road traffic no less than 64 g and airfreight a sizeable 604 g.

[Underlying formula: g CO2 = km × t × g CO2/tkm] (Source: Evonik)

As a full-service provider, Evonik’s Pipelines division can also pass valuable advantages on to the customers. The top priority for a pipeline operator is obviously uninterrupted and secure operation, and this is something that Evonik can guarantee around the clock, 365 days a year. You could be forgiven for thinking that once such a pipeline system has been installed, there couldn’t be many major challenges. But behind its ongoing operation, there is a demanding complex that requires a great deal of work and very specialised skills. From the supplier through to the buyer, there are experts at work to ensure the reliability of the pipeline technology, some of which has been in use for 80 years, as well as of the materials – thereby ensuring the constantly zero-emission transportation of many millions of tonnes of products every year. This involves examination, maintenance, servicing and monitoring performed by experts as well as special technology systems such as those that can be used at the state-of-the-art pipeline control centre in Marl.

Not a straight line from A to B

‘There are also challenges to be overcome even before a pipeline network is put into operation,’ relates Andreas Johnen, an engineer with the DMT GROUP who specialises in pipeline construction. ‘Evonik and DMT have already performed pioneering work here in many joint projects over the decades, involving incredibly complex requirements,’ adds Daniela Kampmann.

To give a heavily simplified explanation, when buyer hubs need product streams, plans need to be drawn up, submitted and approved. This sometimes occurs at the European level, mostly at the national level and always at the regional and district government level. If, for example, a new major buyer needs to be connected to the hydrogen supply, potential pipeline corridors in sometimes densely populated areas have to be found and then examined for their suitability. The DMT GROUP is currently handling just such a project on behalf of Evonik. The solution in terms of rights of way usually already features in the DMT’s scope of services for the preparatory phase, namely the acquisition of title to plots of land for the planned pipeline networks. Which brings us to the depth of corn roots. It is often farmers who need to be consulted regarding the planned encroachments on their land. A solution is never found here unilaterally. There needs to be mutual understanding and trust in order for both sides to be happy in the long term and allow pipes to be laid. It therefore helps that DMT has had expertise in the areas of soil quality, groundwater flows, harvesting seasons and the depth of the roots of agricultural crops since 1737. Additionally, there needs to be a guarantee of transparent communication with the citizens on the basis of information events and other measures before any construction work begins. There are, after all, always justified questions to be answered: ‘What will flow through the pipeline?’, ‘How long will the construction work take?’, ‘What guarantee is there that things will look the same after as they did before?’ or ‘Will all the legal requirements such as protective strips be observed?’. ‘These often emotional discussions with the local residents are a challenge, and one that we take just as seriously as all of the technical issues,’ promises Andreas Johnen.

A tradition of looking to the future

But the DMT GROUP’s core line of business is actually engineering rather than diplomacy, for example in the specialist area of transmission line engineering for critical infrastructures, where it sees to everything from feasibility studies and surveys to traditional engineering planning, authority management, documentation and approval procedures, construction site surveying and highly specialised tasks such as the checking of pipe books for pipelines. We assist companies and the public sector with many different infrastructure new build projects.

The near future promises to be exciting here as Europe now needs to pull out all the stops to achieve its energy transition targets at pace. Hydrogen, H2, is the element that many people are pinning their hopes on when it comes to rapidly reducing carbon emissions. There are high requirements, but both Evonik and DMT are excellently and broadly equipped for this with strong expertise, available technologies and pipeline assets.

For Evonik, hydrogen isn’t even a future topic any more – the company has been producing hydrogen since 1939 and operates hydrogen pipelines. Germany’s largest hydrogen pipeline network, which is owned by Air Liquide, is operated by Evonik’s Pipelines division, while Evonik in Marl, which produces H2, is an important supplier to the Ruhr industrial region. The company is the logistics enabler for the chemicals and refinery cluster in the Wesseling network just outside Cologne and transports the H2 from the producer to the various consumers using its own pipeline assets.

Evonik is also involved in various research projects and initiatives and, as a pioneer and technology partner, is committed to the successful market ramp-up of the hydrogen industry. It has, for example, already developed solutions for the efficient conversion of existing gas pipelines to H2 transportation.

The DMT GROUP offers its hydrogen expertise together with the TÜV NORD GROUP under the name HydroHub, which covers everything from consulting and research projects to applied transformation services for manufacturers, network and storage operators, industrial users, the public sector and investors. The HydroHub analyses needs, identifies economic and technical potential and turns requirements into concrete projects all along the hydrogen value chain. The teams of experts use their hands-on customer orientation to plan and realise projects relating to smart sector coupling, storage systems, site developments, hydrogen importing strategies and much more besides.

It cannot have escaped your attention that the two companies’ service areas already complement one another perfectly in the area of conventional infrastructure services. At the latest with H2 as the molecule of the future, there is nothing standing in the way of joint solutions for industrial users in a number of projects.

Tomorrow’s market shares being decided today

The ever-increasing sustainability requirements for industrial sectors are expediting the transformation of energy systems and infrastructures. The future market shares of governments and companies are now being assigned on the basis among other things of their infrastructure quality and transformation speeds. Both Evonik and DMT have expedient answers here in their respective fields.

The progress already made with major future projects is a very good indication of the general developments. Evonik is very active and committed here. For example, the speciality chemicals company is part of the GET H2 Nukleus project together with the project partners bp, Nowega, OGE and RWE. This initiative has already received a Responsible Care Award from the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) and is aiming to develop the first publicly accessible hydrogen infrastructure in Germany.

Pipeline strategies are currently being developed elsewhere too by various initiators and for a variety of corridors. The most spectacular project due to its size is called TRILOG and will be effected at the European level. Its objective is to achieve the most cost-effective and sustainable security of supply to the most important chemical hubs, from the import terminals in the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp to well into the interior. This will require at least the three countries the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany to all adopt the same path – entailing coordination and organisation work that no company can handle on its own. A group of powerful initiators counting in the tens has already been formed here, including the Port of Antwerp, SABIC and Borealis.

Investment in defossilisation is what’s needed

The necessary product streams have been defined and suitable pipeline corridors have been identified. With mammoth projects of this kind, a considerable amount of time can nevertheless still pass before there is a robust decision-making basis for all those involved in the public approval process. And the investment risk, which is far from low, must be kept in mind at all times because while the pipeline vision takes shape, there is also a great deal going on at the product level to make the energy transition and defossilisation possible.

Even traditional resources are subject to the transition to more sustainable solutions. Naphtha, for example, serves as the basis for ethylene and propylene, which are themselves base materials for the production of plastics such as polyethylene and polypropylene. But this raw material can now also be produced from wood waste or recycled plastic. And if such alternatives replaced fossil resources in the near future, it may also be necessary for pipelines to be rededicated.

But all of these endeavours and investments are necessary. After all, society is inevitably facing one question in particular – will we jointly achieve the transformation to defossilisation in good time?

Evonik and the DMT GROUP are passionate about facing up to their responsibility to deliver satisfactory answers and, as a service provider, also about facing up to other people’s responsibilities. We call this Engineering Performance.

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