Even before the current EU-wide gas crisis created by Russia, Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economics and Climate Protection called for an urgent energy transition. It set new national targets to reduce annual emissions three times faster than previously planned.
The Ministry has focused on one key fact of life on Earth: Hydrogen gas is the most abundant chemical element in nature and is a universal, light, and highly reactive material. Green hydrogen is obtained through a chemical process known as electrolysis, a method that uses electric current to separate hydrogen from the oxygen in water.
Advocates pushing green hydrogen have been citing its numerous advantages as they argue for a rapid shift towards a new kind of energy future:
- Hydrogen does not emit polluting gases either during combustion or (if done correctly) during the production process.
- Hydrogen is very easy to store, allowing it to be used for other purposes and at other times than when it was produced.
- Hydrogen is versatile, insofar as it can be transformed into electricity or synthetic fuels and used for commercial, industrial, and mobility purposes.
- Hydrogen is transportable, since it can be mixed with natural gas up to 20% and travel through the same channels and infrastructures as gas.
However, green hydrogen must face up to some real challenges. Firstly, much of the core equipment, and the enabling technologies, are still expensive. At the current time, these must be custom-made, since production is not fully developed. With barely any operating network of hydrogen plants, the hydrogen itself cannot yet be produced at a cost which is close to parity with diesel. Secondly, the high cost of vehicles: vans and lorries. Despite the obvious benefits — from an environmental, social, and image point of view — only a few operators are actively purchasing them.
Four substantial companies — Shell, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Vattenfall, and Hamburg GmbH — have formed the Hamburg Green Hydrogen Hub (HGHH). They are working to jointly produce hydrogen from wind and solar power at the site of the Hamburg–Moorburg power plant in northern Germany. They are designing their project in such a way that it will be ready to utilize hydrogen supplied from the immediate vicinity.
Their initial focus is on the construction of a scalable electrolyzer with an initial output of 100MW. They are aiming to further develop the site, in keeping with an ambitious goal: turning it into a “Green Energy Hub.” This includes transforming the existing infrastructure at Moorburg such that it can be used to produce energy only from renewable sources. This involves organizing logistics chains and storage options for the hydrogen. Once the site has been cleared, the production of green hydrogen is anticipated to begin in 2025 — making this particular electrolyzer one of the largest in Europe.
In order to link local production, cross-regional infrastructure, and users, Gasnetz Hamburg is planning to set up an industrial hydrogen network. Furthermore, Gasnetz Hamburg joined forces with the HGHH and a few others — Airbus, ArcelorMittal, Greenplug, Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG, Hamburg Port Authority, HADAG Seetouristik, and Fährdienst — in order to form the Hamburg Hydrogen Network. Their focus is jointly the production, transport, and utilization of green hydrogen in the Hamburg port area. Additional related projects involve Aurubis, Stadtreinigung Hamburg, and Hamburger Energiewerke, each of which are also pursuing specific projects to establish a strong hydrogen economy in the region. Meanwhile, ADM, Cargill, GP Joule, Greenplug, H&R-Group, Hobum, Nynas, Sasol, Speira, and Trimet have announced their own related plans.
All of these companies have come to recognize that hydrogen has the potential to do much more than provide efficient power storage. For instance, Wärme Hamburg has pledged to make available all sources of waste heat and to utilize this climate-neutral heat. According to Christian Heine, CEO of Wärme GmbH and Gasnetz Hamburg, “this is the reason why Wärme Hamburg decided to take part in the electrolyzer project. In addition, we want to evaluate if we can use the existing infrastructure at the Moorburg site, also to use other, additional forms of renewable energy. Moorburg has the potential to become an innovative urban hub for renewable energies.”
The four HGHH partners applied for funding under the EU’s large-scale program known as “Important Projects of Common European Interest” (IPCEI). This funding was committed in the first quarter of 2021. The EU and its partners determined that Moorburg is the ideal location because it can be connected there to the national 380,000 volt transmission network, and to the City of Hamburg’s own 110,000 volt network. In addition, overseas ships can call at the location directly, using the quay and port facilities as a dedicated import terminal.
Affirming this choice of location has been the Minister for Economy and Innovation of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg. In that capacity, Michael Westhagemann said that “there is no better location in Hamburg for a scalable electrolyzer of this size. Via the 380 kV connection and the connection to Brunsbüttel, we have direct access to the supply of green electricity from wind power — and thus the possibility of actually producing green hydrogen in relevant quantities.” Furthermore, he’s indicated in numerous speeches and media interviews that he and his government are firmly committed to a long-term decarbonization of the port.
The municipal gas network company intends to expand a hydrogen network in the port during the next ten years, and is already working on building out the distribution infrastructure. Numerous potential customers for green hydrogen are located near the site. This will enable the project to cover the entire hydrogen value chain — from generation to storage, transport, and utilization — in various industrial sectors. With these prerequisites, the Moorburg location is deemed to be optimal by the German government, since it is the designated starting point for developing a nationwide hydrogen economy.
The President and CEO of Energy Systems at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Kentaro Hosomi, is especially enthused. He said “the establishment of a green hydrogen hub that is fully integrated into Hamburg’s industrial infrastructure would show Europe and the world that the hydrogen economy is real and can make a significant contribution to the decarbonization of the energy system and heavy industry.”
For many years, Moorburg was the site of a gas-fired power plant operated by Hamburgische Electricitäts-Werke Co. The Vattenfall Corp. had been operating a coal-fired power plant here since 2015. Its commercial operation was terminated after the power plant won a bid in the auction for the nationwide coal phaseout in December 2020. A decision to go forward was made by the transmission system operator in March 2021. The City of Hamburg and Vattenfall are working towards clearing some areas at the site as soon as possible.
Support from both the local and regional governments has been a critical element in the project’s early success. Jens Kerstan is the Chairman of the Supervisory Boards of Wärme Hamburg GmbH and Gasnetz Hamburg GmbH. He also serves as the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg’s Minister for the Environment and Energy. Kerstan recently announced that, “for Hamburg as a city that embraces the energy transition, this agreement is a vital step. At the Moorburg site, we will be producing green hydrogen on a large scale in collaboration with experienced partners from industry, while at the same time establishing a Green Energy hub for climate-friendly energy. This is a bold venture that now needs to be filled with life. This project will be a major lever for reaching our climate goals. The gas pipeline networks in the port and around Moorburg are now being expanded to accommodate hydrogen and to facilitate supplies to industry and large businesses. Our hydrogen future is now taking shape, and Hamburg intends to be at the forefront here. The Hamburg Senate supports these efforts, and Hamburg’s public companies play a decisive role in this.”
Fabian Ziegler, CEO of Shell in Germany: “In the future, green hydrogen will play a very important role in the energy system and therefore also for us. We keep an eye on the development of the entire value chain for hydrogen; from the entry into electricity production from offshore wind to the expansion of capacities for green hydrogen production as well as to the supply for mobility or transport applications and other industries. To achieve this, we need to and we want to collaborate with strong partners. We consider this project of the consortium of four together with the city of Hamburg to be exemplary.”
Andreas Regnell, Senior Vice President and Head of Strategic Development at Vattenfall: “The production of fossil free hydrogen is one key to the decarbonisation of the industry and the transport sectors. Vattenfall wants to enable fossil free living within one generation and we have high ambitions to grow within renewable energy production in the markets where we operate. In this project we can contribute with our expertise and experience and the unique Moorburg site that has the infrastructure that is necessary for large scale production of hydrogen.”
About the Partners
Vattenfall is one of the leading European energy providers, employing approximately 20,000 people and running operations mainly in Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, and the UK. Vattenfall is owned by the Swedish state.
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. (MHI), headquartered in Tokyo, is a leading industrial firm with 80,000 group employees and annual consolidated revenues of around $38 billion. MHI owns a large business portfolio in order to deliver integrated solutions across a range of industries, from commercial aviation and transportation to power plants and gas turbines, and from machinery and infrastructure to integrated defense and space systems.
With headquarters in The Hague, Royal Dutch Shell is listed on the London, Amsterdam, and New York stock exchanges. Shell companies have operations in more than 70 countries and territories with businesses including oil & gas exploration and production; production and marketing of liquefied natural gas and gas to liquids; manufacturing, marketing and shipping of oil products and chemicals and renewable energy projects.
Wärme Hamburg GmbH is a city-owned company which provides heat for 500,000 household equivalents. The company is working to phase out coal-fired heat generation by 2030, and is focusing resources on utilizing waste heat from industry, sewage and waste incineration plants. Wärme Hamburg holds a market share in Hamburg’s heat market of 22 %.
Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG (HHLA) is a leading European logistics company based in Hamburg. It has become an integral part of the Hamburg Port’s day-to-day operations. Together with partners, HHLA is now aiming to move forward the decarbonization of handling and transport processes.
HHLA has created a cluster, called Clean Port & Logistics (CPL), to test hydrogen-powered equipment in port logistics. This will support and accelerate both the achievement of market maturity and the integration into regular port operations. In order to reduce emissions in port handling and the associated logistics chains, the innovation cluster has the support of the German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure — with HHLA serve as the lead for managing the cluster.
CPL brings together equipment manufacturers as well as port and logistics companies with academic partners, producers of renewable hydrogen, software companies and operators and manufacturers of storage tank locations. The parties cooperate nationwide to conduct research and practical tests into how hydrogen can be used in a reliable way to supply power to port technology and port logistics. The cluster carries out simulations and investigations and develops training concepts for this purpose. At the core of activities will be a test center for hydrogen-powered equipment at the HHLA’s Container Terminal Tollerort in Hamburg.
The cluster is being sponsored by the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure as part of a national innovation program for hydrogen and fuel cell technology. The funding guidelines will be coordinated by NOW GmbH and implemented by Projektträger Jülich (PTJ).
Acoording to Angela Titzrath, Chairwoman of HHLA’s Executive Board, “port-handling and heavy goods logistics will make their contribution to climate protection and improving the quality of life in urban areas. The key element here is the decarbonization of logistics. That can also be achieved with the help of hydrogen as the operating energy. CPL will provide an additional boost to the transformation process.”
The cluster aims to enable cooperation across sites and support numerous ports in their efforts for more climate protection. Michael Westhagemann, Hamburg Minister for Economic and Labor Affairs, has emphasized the cluster’s value for Hamburg: “The port is a focus area of our hydrogen strategy, which also includes the application of hydrogen, particularly in intralogistics, as an important pillar. HHLA will gain valuable, cross-disciplinary experience from the project on how the fuel of the future can make a concrete contribution toward reaching Hamburg’s climate targets.”
The coordinator is Johannes Daum, the Managing Director for Hydrogen, Alternative Fuels and Batteries at company NOW GmbH. He says that NOW ifs focused on making the CPL innovation cluster a part of the e4ports network: “Through our network activities, we are already aware of the urgent need for action at ports concerning the energy transition, but we also know the commitment port companies have for pursuing this goal. With CPL, we will bring the concrete application of hydrogen in port logistics to a new level.”
As part of CPL, HHLA has already ordered hydrogen-powered empty container handlers and terminal tractors from Hyster Yale Group, a designer/manufacturer of port-handling equipment. The units will be powered by Nuvera fuel cells. The delivery of the terminal tractor is planned for the end of 2022, followed by the empty container handler in early 2023.
By Gordon Feller
While advocating for systemic change over 4 decades, Gordon Feller has been called upon to help leaders running some of the world’s major organizations: World Bank, UN, World Economic Forum, Lockheed, Apple, IBM, Ford, the national governments of Germany, Canada, US — to name a few. With 40 years in Silicon Valley, Feller’s 300+ published articles cover the full spectrum of energy/environment/technology issues, reporting from more than 40 countries. Obama/Biden appointee to Federal comm. on innovation; Global Fellow at The Smithsonian; Winner: Prime Minister Abe Fellowship, Japan. @GordonFeller on Twitter (Gordon@GordonFeller.com)
Featured image courtesy of Hamburg Green Hydrogen Hub
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