Belgian port lays out plans for ‘massive’ imports of green hydrogen

The Port of Antwerp is one of the busiest in Europe and has announced it will become climate neutral by 2050. It is also home to a large chemical industry cluster including BASF, Ineos, Monsanto, Exxon Mobil, and others, which are first in line to become potential users of hydrogen. [Lambert Claes / Shutterstock]

The Port of Antwerp has partnered with energy utility Engie and five other entities in a consortium aiming to establish a full renewable hydrogen import value chain in Belgium by the end of the decade.

The consortium announced on Wednesday (27 January) the completion of a feasibility study concluding that the project is both technically and economically feasible.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo said: “Hydrogen will play a decisive role in the energy transition and in making our industry sustainable.”

“The next step is to develop a long-term strategy for importing hydrogen,” he added in a statement.

The so-called “Hydrogen Import Coalition” consists of DEME, Engie, Exmar, Fluxys, the Port of Antwerp, the Port of Zeebrugge and WaterstofNet.

Their joint study maps out the financial, technical and regulatory aspects of building an entire hydrogen import chain – from production abroad to delivery via ships and pipelines to Belgium and internal distribution to final industrial users.

“It is clear that solar and wind will be the renewable energy sources of the future. However, in Belgium and Western Europe, there is not enough wind or solar energy, while other regions in the world in fact have solar and wind energy in abundance,” the coalition said.

The Belgian project is in line with European Commission plans unveiled last year to develop a renewable hydrogen value chain in Europe as a way to complement electricity generated from renewables.

The production of low-carbon electricity is expected to double over the next decades as Europe moves forward to reduce emissions to net-zero by mid-century. But electricity is only expected to represent 53% of the EU’s energy mix by 2050, according to long-term scenarios developed by the European Commission.

This is why local production of renewable electricity will need to be supplemented by supplies of “green molecules” from countries where wind and solar power can be used to generate renewable hydrogen in abundant quantities, the coalition said.

The objective is to establish a complete hydrogen import value chain by 2030.

EU Commission charts path towards 100% renewable hydrogen

The European Commission unveiled plans on Wednesday (8 July) to promote hydrogen based entirely on renewable electricity like wind and solar, but said low-carbon hydrogen derived from fossil fuels will also be supported in order to scale up production in the short term.

With its extensive network of terminals and gas pipelines, Belgium is ideally placed to become a global leader in the hydrogen economy, promoters say.

The Port of Antwerp is one of the busiest in Europe and has announced plans to become climate neutral by 2050. It is also home to chemical industry giants such as BASF, Ineos, Monsanto, ExxonMobil, and others, which are first in line to become potential users of hydrogen.

“As a world port and Europe’s largest integrated chemical cluster, we are an important link in this chain,” said Jacques Vandermeiren, the CEO of the Port of Antwerp.

“One of the next steps is to analyse how to prepare our seaports to receive these hydrogen carriers of the future,” he told a press briefing on Wednesday. “The momentum is really now if we want to be ready for the end of the decade”.

On the finance side, the CEO of DEME Group, Luc Vandenbulcke, remained vague, saying “it will be in the order of magnitude of one billion and more” just for the large-scale production of hydrogen abroad. “And then we have the transport to be followed after that, so we’re talking about massive investments,” he said.

The CEO of gas infrastructure group Fluxys, Pascal de Buck, gave further detail saying “there will be some support from the authorities: European, national, and regional,” including from the EU’s €750 billon coronavirus recovery plan.

“By the middle of this decade, we should have a clearer view on the first initiatives,” de Buck said when pressed by EURACTIV to elaborate on the financial commitments.

He added, however, that Belgium “probably won’t be ready” yet to start importing green hydrogen by then. First, electrolysers need to be put in place abroad for the large-scale production of hydrogen, which will probably start happening between 2025 and 2030, he said.

And on the Belgian side, new import terminals will have to be built, something he says takes about five years.

Moreover, “these types of projects are capital-intensive and need long lead-times, so we will need a legal framework to give us visibility for the long run,” de Buck said.

“So I would guess that the first elements would be ready by the end of this decade,” he added.

Hydrogen trade hopes boosted by Australia-Germany deal

A bilateral agreement aimed at increasing German imports of hydrogen produced from solar power plants in Australia could set a milestone in efforts to establish a global hydrogen market.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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