Terminals as Hubs in Global Hydrogen Trade

Terminals as Hubs in Global Hydrogen Trade

Last fall, I was honored to be invited to speak at the annual World Ports Conference held in Abu Dhabi.

This marked the first time that this global event was held in the Middle East, and it was an ideal location to hold conversations about the future of ports and terminals in international energy trade. Fittingly, Abu Dhabi is also the home of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). The agency’s director, Francesco la Camera, delivered a keynote to the attendees describing the immense need for scaling up renewables production to meet national goals for GHG reductions.

What became clear throughout the presentations and panel discussions was that ports and terminals will play a vital role in enabling global renewable energy production to contribute to national goals in industrialized economies like those in Europe and Japan. In its 2023 report, “Global Hydrogen Trade to Meet the 1.50 C Climate Goal,” IRENA presents an analysis showing that the global south — especially the nations of Sub-Saharan Africa — have significant competitive advantages for green hydrogen production.

These areas combine abundant solar and wind capabilities with high availability of land and water resources needed for electrolysis of water to produce hydrogen. IRENA estimates that potential for green hydrogen production at costs below $2/kg is at least five times as great — and potentially up to 15 times as great — in Southern Africa as it is in Europe.

In the Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario, more than 20% of demand for merchant hydrogen and hydrogen-based fuels would be internationally traded by 2030, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA) in its Global Hydrogen Review 2023. IEA is a partner with IRENA. To date, there have been announcements for around 50 terminals and ports implementing infrastructure for hydrogen and hydrogen-based fuels.

The implications for ports and terminals are enormous. Even with added costs for conversion into liquid carriers and transport, transoceanic trade in hydrogen and hydrogen carriers like ammonia could grow to meet substantial demand for low carbon energy solutions. In fact, the era of global trade in hydrogen has already arrived. On January 21, 2022, the first commercial shipment of liquid hydrogen departed Australia’s Port of Hastings aboard the Suiso Frontier liquid hydrogen carrier bound for Japan.

The shipment was the result of the Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain project, a joint effort funded by the Australian and Japanese governments. While the project is producing hydrogen from coal and biomass feedstocks today, the project’s backers have a long-term vision producing green hydrogen from Australia’s abundant solar and wind resources.

Port Authority of Rotterdam is collaborating with various partners toward the introduction of a large-scale hydrogen network across the port complex, making Rotterdam an international hub for hydrogen production, import, application and transport to other countries in Northwest Europe.

The Namibian government is also an early mover in establishing a space in hydrogen trade, having announced a green hydrogen mega-project in November 2021.

The $9.4 billion, 300,000 mt/yr project will focus on providing green hydrogen and ammonia to local and global markets. The Namibian port is collaborating with Port of Antwerp-Bruge and Port of Rotterdam in Europe to set up a green hydrogen export supply chain between Namibia and Europe.

The project site will be within the Tsau Khaeb National Park, a coastal area in the Namib desert with world-class onshore wind and solar resources. The site has proximity to both key shipping routes around southern Africa and major land transport corridors. The project developers expect that the green hydrogen production cost will be between $1.73-$2.30/kg.

The adoption of low-emission hydrogen as a clean energy option presents technological challenges. First movers will face risks due to lack of knowledge and market uncertainty. However, completing demonstration projects to gain operational experience and develop in-house know-how can position them ahead of their competitors when deployment of the technology scales up.

BIC Magazine, Katherine Clay (ILTA), January 8, 2024