Rotterdam begins hydrogen roll-out: what does this mean for future fuels?
Chris Goggin of Rinnai looks at how the port of Rotterdam in Holland is aiming to be a major hub of hydrogen commerce.
Global energy markets are amid adapting to the new ‘normal’ – a new set of industrial and governmental led objectives which are being driven by the ecological necessity to decarbonise all existing energy infrastructures in order to minimize the dire consequences of climate change and the reality of declining energy reserves.
If fossil fuels continue to be burned at the current rate, it has been widely accepted that nearly all remaining supplies could be depleted by 2060. It has also been generally accepted that more gas fields will be located at some point, somewhere, extending the 2060 timeframe of gas supply diminishment.
However, if international government and industry leaders are seriously committed to total decarbonisation by 2050 then 80% of coal, 50% of gas and 30% of oil reserves are surplus to requirements due to the levels of environmental harm they will cause. These figures amount effectively to a deterioration of international energy stocks. When contemplating the introduction of a new, sustainable and affordable source of fuel, pragmatism will be required considering the global population will bloat to 10 billion by the end of the century.
A 2018 paper released by the Global Energy and CO2 Status Report specified worldwide demand for energy increased by 2.3%, the biggest rise in the decade. Over 70% of this increase in consumption was met through oil, natural gas and coal. As a consequence energy related omissions increased by 1.7 %.
Satisfying further mass market demand through repeated use of highly carbonized fossil fuels signifies that a change in domestic and commercial fuel consumption and distribution is urgently required.
The need for change is being accepted by the world at large. A huge signifier of that change is evident in the port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands which has released plans to develop a hydrogen hub with the intent of creating an active hydrogen economy across Europe.
This is an extremely important development, one that has escaped attention. Rotterdam is already Western Europe’s leading hub of energy redistribution due to its strategic geographical positioning in North West Europe. 8,800 petajoules of energy is imported and exported through Rotterdam. This amounts to almost three times the yearly energy demand of the Netherlands and 13% of the total energy demand in the entire EU.
Aside from being Europe’s centre of energy distribution Rotterdam is easily the biggest port operating in the EU, covering 105 square kilometres (41 sq. mi). The Port of Rotterdam dealt with 436.8 million tonnes of freight container goods in the year 2020. A further 30,000 large seafaring vessels entered and exited its port as well as 100,000 smaller inland vessels. Rotterdam is the 10th busiest port in the world, on a list dominated by China; its output is twice that of its nearest EU competitor – Antwerp.
The Port of Rotterdam is the largest seaport in Europe and the largest outside of Asia. From 1962 until 2004 it was the world’s busiest port, now overtaken by Singapore and then eventually by Shanghai. In 2018, Rotterdam was the world’s eleventh-largest container port in terms of twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) handled. In 2017 Rotterdam was the world’s tenth-largest port in terms of annual cargo tonnage.
A port of international importance which provides logistic routes required for global trade cannot afford to undertake any degree of risk when contemplating a sustainable, affordable and environmentally friendly source of fuel. If the wrong solution is supported there is potential for widespread international economic dysfunction.
Having completed research on the subject both the Dutch government and the PoR (Port of Rotterdam Authority) arrived upon hydrogen as an energy solution for its clean properties and mass market potential.
The integration of hydrogen into Rotterdam’s future can further its mass market potential for regional domestic and commercial customers in Holland and have great influence elsewhere in the world. The current energy distribution market consists of a multitude of options with a range of competitive and beneficial financial options which will therefore exist for homeowners and industries reliant on fuel.
Rotterdam’s geographical position means that Germany continues to import a significant amount of fuel directly from the port. Currently 13% of imported German coal and oil is transported directly through the Port of Rotterdam. Once an established decarbonized supply of hydrogen is active, a hydrogen-based economy will be fully operational and German hydrogen fuel imports are predicted to expand once consumer demand for domestic and commercial hydrogen increases.
Germany’s relationship with its neighbour the Netherlands will undoubtedly provide assistance with information gathering. This cross-national preference towards hydrogen will be further strengthened by each government committing to its own infrastructure pipeline projects. It could even be argued that Germany and the Netherlands find themselves in a symbiotic relationship considering the financial benefits and energy importations that each country relies upon.
If Germany does adapt its energy sources to include hydrogen a significant percentage will be delivered via Rotterdam. If a country with the globally accepted political sway of Germany and a port of international trade importance like Rotterdam are both adapting to hydrogen, it is likely that extensive change along an identical route will be administratively affected soon after.
Plans released by the PoR state that in generating a centralized supply of hydrogen fit for multi-purposes it is possible for an international hydrogen-based economy to begin operating. Again, owing to Rotterdam’s advantageous geographical positioning the PoR is ideally placed to benefit from a future hydrogen economy thanks also in part to its existing assets, plants, terminals and experience.
The PoR plan on independently producing both blue and green hydrogen; current stocks of grey hydrogen which contains low levels of toxic properties will be converted into blue carbon neutral hydrogen via a subterranean infrastructure and stored underground ready for utilization. Green hydrogen will be electrically generated off-shore through wind power and transported across high voltage cables into storage ready for deployment.
It is projected by the PoR that all produced hydrogen will provide fuel for international trade transport and chemical feedstock. All modes of transport that refuel in Rotterdam will be doing so with ecological sanitary blue or green hydrogen.
The Port of Rotterdam planning to hydrogenize its fuel supply is a significant step forward in uniting the international trade sector in a unilaterally agreed upon, affordable and sustainable energy supply which could potentially reinforce Rotterdam as an international hub of energy distribution.
This is a likely out-come if additional EU ports begin employing hydrogen as a primary source of fuel. If ports in EU cities such as Antwerp, Marseille and Hamburg all replicate interest in hydrogen a pan-European preference towards hydrogen as its main fuel supply is potentially inevitable.
Aiming towards this inevitability is the port of Liverpool as it is a step closer to introducing its own £750 million ($1.02 billion) blue hydrogen hub with India-based Essar Oil investing the capital into the project. The fact that a company that deals directly with the present source of global energy – oil, is investing heavily in hydrogen, endorses a high level of subtext.
A pattern of acceptance towards hydrogen is evident across international governments and multiple industries. The international community are aware that a transition in energy consumption is required. It appears that the process of transition has already begun and high level decisions have been made, with a lot of these decisions and investments centring on hydrogen. Rotterdam’s Hydrogen project could be the beginning of a much larger transnational hydrogen project.
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