Italy could be a European hydrogen hub thanks to North Africa

The IAI, an Italian think tank, has published a report on the Potential for North African Hydrogen Imports into Italy and the EU. Author of the report Luca Franza, is Head of the Energy, Climate and Resources Programme at the Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI). Paper prepared in the framework of the project “Clean Molecules across the Mediterranean“. This paper was published with the support of Snam SpA.

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The report notes that according to public information so far available, the upcoming Italian National Hydrogen Strategy is also expected to place emphasis on the potential role of Italy as a hydrogen hub also thanks to North African hydrogen trade. According to author, low-carbon hydrogen produced in North Africa can play an important role in enabling the European Union and Italy to reach their increasingly ambitious decarbonisation targets as a complement to electrification and locally produced renewables. It is estimated that the EU could achieve cost savings by producing at least part of its future renewable energy needs in neighbouring high-yield regions. Italy is set to play a particularly important function as both a gateway and a catalyst for North African hydrogen exports.

Hydrogen exports from North Africa could also be cost-competitive

North African hydrogen production and exports to Italy and the rest of the EU can benefit countries along both shores of the Mediterranean. Green hydrogen has the potential to harness North Africa’s untapped and massive renewable energy potential. Blue hydrogen is an option for North African hydrocarbon producers to continue exporting energy to Italy and the EU, where the space for unabated fossil fuels will shrink due to increasingly ambitious climate targets (55 per cent emission reduction by 2030 and climate neutrality by 2050). According to author hydrogen exports from North Africa to Italy and the rest of the EU are not only technically feasible, studies show they could also be cost-competitive The projected cost competitiveness of North African green hydrogen is determined by affordable transportation options (namely, the possibility to use existing gas pipelines that have an aggregate capacity of 60 GW) and low costs of electrolytic production in North Africa (1 euro per kg in 2030), which boasts not only excellent irradiation levels (2,500–3,000 kwh per square metre annually) but also outstanding ventilation in some areas (wind speeds up to 8–9 m/s).

Italian hydrogen strategy

The upcoming Italian Hydrogen Strategy, which will mobilise additional funding (10 billion euro), should also strongly target imports of North African hydrogen and scale up ambitions to make Italy a European hydrogen hub. This will hopefully allow Italy to catch up with other EU countries that have already adopted a hydrogen strategy and signed hydrogen partnership agreements with North African countries. Having an interest in the success of regional hydrogen developments, Italy should commission and support feasibility studies on hydrogen projects in various countries, particularly those where the debate on hydrogen is still at an early stage and that are geographically closer, namely Algeria and Tunisia. Italy should also consider contributing to funding the most promising pilot projects for hydrogen production and export, especially in countries that have not yet launched any.

Allocation of EU funds to North African hydrogen schemes

Within the EU, Italy has an interest in mobilising political capital to promote the allocation of EU funds to North African hydrogen schemes through the Green Deal, Important Projects of Common European Interest, and the European Neighbourhood Policy Instrument.

Mediterranean Hydrogen Forum

Coordinating with EU institutions and the International Energy Agency, the Italian government could also establish a Mediterranean Hydrogen Forum to promote the exchange of technologies and regulatory best-practices. Upon a careful and inclusive process of consultation with stakeholders from industry, academia, think-tanks, governments and civil society, the Forum could produce a Mediterranean Hydrogen Strategy or Master Plan.


The report can be downloaded below:

Clean Molecules across the Mediterranean.

The Potential for North African Hydrogen Imports into Italy and the EU