Gas on new paths: It must not only become more cumbersome

Yes, it is another gain in independence from Russian gas supplies. But it is also a step further towards the desired great new awkwardness in energy supply: With the start of construction of the first completely privately financed liquefied natural gas terminal in Lubmin, the new global architecture of energy flows is increasingly taking shape. It was designed in a hurry and just being able to do it so quickly is a credit. However, if it sticks to reacting only to geopolitical power games without fundamentally rethinking gas production, that would be a missed opportunity.

Malte Kirchner has been an editor at heise online since 2022. In addition to the technology itself, he is concerned with the question of how it is changing society. He pays special attention to news from Apple. He also does development and podcasting.

In addition to Lubmin, Wilhelmshaven is also continuing to work hard on the state-financed LNG terminal. Both ports, Lubmin and Wilhelmshaven, want to start importing LNG at the end of the year. And because Russia is sitting on the large amount of gas that is no longer flowing through Nord Stream 1 to Europe and will probably continue to do so in the future, it is looking for new customers. China offers itself as a new sales market: initially with the help of an existing pipeline and in the future possibly with a newly built one. But also the Russian state-owned company Gazprom will send out LNG transport ships in the future.

If you look at the pure transport routes without any geopolitical background, the situation seems quite absurd: Energy flows in the form of gas, which were previously routed from the gas field via pipes to the consumers via the shortest route, are being shut off. And instead, in future, tanker ships will sail halfway around the world, using the corresponding amount of energy. They deliver cryogenic liquefied gas, which, mind you, first has to be cooled down to the liquid state, which involves a considerable amount of energy. And then it has to be converted back from that state back to the gaseous state.

The whole thing is reminiscent of the situation in the airspace: Due to mutually closed airspaces, airplanes sometimes have to take considerable, downright grotesque detours. They use more energy because they are in the air longer. In the same way, services of general interest with gas – with all due respect for the good reasons – are initially on the way to taking significantly longer routes and becoming more energy-intensive.

In Europe in particular, this is causing the population to frown: First of all, there are the sharply rising energy prices. Due to the new energy paths, these will not return to the pleasantly low level at which they once moved in the future either. And then there is the issue of climate change and the energy transition. Where is the progress if we stay with fossil fuels, which will only have to be obtained more cumbersomely in the future?

Politicians have a good-sounding answer: green hydrogen. However, in order to make it even more complicated, this should also flow in a roundabout way. The LNG plants would not be able to cope with the gas without major conversions. One idea is therefore to use photovoltaics to generate electricity in sunny desert countries, for example, which is used to obtain hydrogen from water by electrolysis. The hydrogen is then to be converted into methane (CH4) with the carbon dioxide that has been transported, which in turn could be brought to Europe in a cryogenic state as LNG by tanker ship.

That all sounds a lot like science fiction at the moment. And the skepticism is justified. Among other things, the historical example of the Transrapid magnetic levitation train shows that such bold visions of the future, which actually impose themselves, do not automatically take shape despite fundamental feasibility. Decades ago, it seemed a given that by 2022, passengers would be rushing through the country on stilts at 500 km/h. Instead, the trains and the people traveling in them have remained down to earth and the sober facts – with all the earthly switch and signal faults.

The gas crisis would be an opportunity to become less dependent on fossil fuels. An emergency reaction could turn into a beneficial development. And one thing has also become clear: without this war, no one would have seriously shaken up the previous energy flows. But a positive outcome of the painfully initiated development is anything but a sure-fire success. At the moment we are only building detours. This enforced change was not intended to memorialize a despot and a war—it was later to be remembered as a stepping stone towards progress.


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