By Vera Eckert
FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Germany's natural gas lobby on Wednesday called for 800 million euros ($902.56 million) in sponsorship to build plants to turn natural gas into hydrogen and split off the polluting carbon, in a test of the new government's climate pledges.
The government, which was sworn in on Wednesday, has presented radical plans to step up climate protection efforts, raising questions whether they can be achieved in practice.
The government's energy goals demand alternatives to fossil fuels and leave the door open for new technologies - such as a process to produce "turquoise" hydrogen - that can avoid carbon emissions.
Turquoise hydrogen is produced by methane pyrolysis, a technology which is in its infancy but promising, according to some industry players, including Wintershall Dea, which works on pyrolysis with gas grid firm VNG, majority owned by EnBW, and British firm Hiiroc, based in Hull.
The process breaks down methane in natural gas into a gaseous hydrogen inside a vacuum to obtain solid carbon, which can be used, for example, by pigment or tyre makers.
"The potential of turquoise hydrogen has not been sufficiently used in the past," Timm Kehler, chairman of the Zukunft Gas lobby, told a virtual media conference.
"The coalition's open approach brings new possibilities," he said referring to the new government, in which the Green Party is a member.
The pyrolysis method for hydrogen production sits alongside plans for electrolysis plants to produce "green" hydrogen, made by splitting water molecules with zero-carbon wind, solar or biomass power.
The government wants 10 gigawatts (GW) of electrolysis capacity by 2030.
Kehler said the 800 million euros could help to build enough capacity to produce 90 terawatt hours (TWh) per annum of turquoise hydrogen and could be raised partly from revenue the government collects from issuing mandatory carbon emissions permits.
The government's target of 10 GW of electrolysis would only yield 40 TWh per year, he said.
But some environmental lobbies seeking to promote a faster and more far-reaching shift away from fossil fuels via zero-carbon electricity view initiatives to repurpose gas infrastructure for hydrogen merely as the fossil industry's attempt to ensure its survival.
Legal charity Client Earth has warned the Berlin government should not "segue into a 20-year affair with another fossil fuel".
($1 = 0.8864 euros)
(Reporting by Vera Eckert, editing by Miranda Murray and Jane Merriman)