Infrastructure linked to the Shell’s decommissioned Brent oil & gas complex in the North Sea has been spotlighted as among the “ideal sites” for possible conversion for offshore wind-powered hydrogen generation, according to a new scoping report from the Scottish Offshore Wind Energy Council (SOWEC) exploring repurposing existing pipelines and platforms for the next chapter of energy production on the UK continental shelf.

The study, carried out by the engineering consultancy Vysus, ran the rule over ageing floating and fixed oil & gas installations in the northern and central North Sea and a number of pipelines nearing the end of their operational lives as “candidates for export or storage of hydrogen product, disposal of CO2 and the import of natural gas feedstock for steam methane reforming”.

The report also looked at the conversion of bulk carriers into platforms to host hydrogen production equipment that could be moored for tie-in to “constrained” offshore renewable resources in the waters to the north of the Scottish mainland.

Though the authors stated that the intention of the study was “not to attempt to identify specific infrastructure for repurposing”, they nonetheless suggested the Brent and Markham fields in North Sea were “ideal donor sites for consideration, as these sites are located in close proximity to connecting pipelines and offshore wind farm developments”.

Brian McFarlane, co-chair of SOWEC, stated: “Offshore wind is at the heart of a successful energy transition. Scotland has a world-class supply chain working in oil and gas and maritime engineering. This report highlights the readiness of Scottish companies to shift into hydrogen, and also sets out a route map on the political, economic, regulatory, and technological steps needed to enable the transition.

“Supply chain infrastructure necessary for the repurposing of candidate oil & gas installations has been an established part of the Scottish oil and gas economy for many years. This infrastructure is well placed to support repurposing towards a hydrogen economy.”

SOWEC’s study, which focuses on an overview of existing policy and regulatory landscape, cost estimates for necessary supply chain and infrastructure and “interest among developers to support hydrogen production growth” from late-2020 to 2050, follows the opening of the Scottish government’s consultation on a new planning process for acreage award for first offshore wind-powered oil & gas projects.

Thought the report found there were “real opportunities” to repurpose redundant pipelines running close to offshore wind farms and re-useable infrastructure, it highlighted a number of challenges that must be addressed by policy makers, industry and regulators if the infrastructure is to become available for repurposing, including:

• economic uncertainties associated with the condition of redundant pipelines,

• unidentified areas of high corrosion or thin walls in pipeline to be repurposed or “overestimated integrity of an existing pipeline for its new duty of transporting hydrogen”,

• differences in physical and chemical properties between hydrogen and natural gas that could impact “the suitability of existing equipment for high hydrogen content with regard to stress cracking etc”, and

• pipeline availability and potential conflict with decommissioning plans.

The Scottish government has identified three scenarios to develop a hydrogen economy over the period 2025, 2035, and 2045 where between 70,000 and 300,000 jobs will be protected or created with gross value added benefits of £5bn-£25bn.

During this period production Holyrood expects projects to grow from “small-scale operations with 200MW per unit production capacity for green hydrogen to over 25GW total by 2045”, with the majority of production offshore.

“Depending on pricing of hydrogen, carbon pricing and cost of entry to the market, these figures demonstrate a significant potential market opportunity for repurposed offshore infrastructure to host equipment,” said the report authors.

The UK government recently launched its long-awaited hydrogen strategy, setting out proposals to use a contracts for difference support mechanism similar to the one employed to kick-start the nation’s offshore wind sector, with a view to building 5GW of H2 capacity by 2030.