Europe turns to Australia for green hydrogen

In a test of the model, Australia supplied liquid hydrogen by ship to Japan in January from the port of Hastings in Victoria as part of a $500 million program using lignite to produce the gas .

A cheaper way to ship the fuel could be to use hydrogen to create liquid ammonia, which has a much higher volume energy density when stored at minus 33 degrees. The Rotterdam project concerns ammonia as well as hydrogen import terminals.

The Suiso Frontier transported liquid hydrogen from Australia to Japan.Credit:Eamon Gallagher

Castelein said Australia was in a “good and strong position” to supply the fuel at a time when the war in Ukraine has highlighted Europe’s dependence on Russian gas and the need for renewable alternatives.

“Europe will struggle to cope with a sudden supply disruption, which is unlikely to materialise,” he said.

“Europe as a continent will not be able to replace gas with gas.”

The Rotterdam LNG import terminal is operating at full capacity and the only other terminals nearby are in Zeebrugge and Dunkirk, while Germany leases floating import terminals. The International Energy Agency reports that The European Union imported 155 billion cubic meters of natural gas from Russia last year and that alternative suppliers might supply only 30 billion cubic meters in one year.

“The scale of the challenge is huge, not least because 2030 is just around the corner,” Castelein said of commercial hydrogen goals.

“That’s why countries that have strong development plans, conducive to starting new businesses and making materials, people and permits readily available, can become a major source of supply.”

The Port of Rotterdam is the transfer point for 13% of Europe’s fossil fuel imports – oil, coal and LNG – but is rapidly moving towards clean energy with a mix of hydrogen imports and domestic production.

It wants to reach commercial production and imports of hydrogen from 2025 so that it can be increased to 4.6 million tonnes each year from 2030, around a quarter of the forecast for the EU.

The EU plan assumes half of the hydrogen will come from imports, underscoring the opportunity for Australia when countries like Chile, Uruguay and Iceland are also planning hydrogen projects and the Saudi Arabia wants to become a major hydrogen producer after decades of oil dominance.

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The Port of Rotterdam has early agreements with Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania, but the most advanced appears to be with South Australia, where Prime Minister Peter Malinauskas has plans for a $593 million hydrogen planttriggering financial risk warnings.

Castelein said one advantage for Australia was its fuel export history, while the other was its ability to produce hydrogen at around a third of the cost of northwestern Europe, a result better solar and wind energy, taking into account climatic differences.

Green hydrogen is produced by electrolysis when water is split into hydrogen and oxygen using electricity from renewable sources, creating a clean fuel that can be transported and stored.

Most of the hydrogen produced in the world is “grey” hydrogen created by combining high pressure steam with natural gas, a process that creates 0.8 million tonnes of hydrogen in the Netherlands but generates 12.5 million tons of carbon emissions, according to the Netherlands Organization for Applied Enforcement. Scientific Research, the TNO.

Burying the emissions would create “blue” hydrogen, which NWT says could be done using carbon capture and storage in the North Sea as part of the largest such project in the world.

“We believe there is a clear case for blue hydrogen,” said Castelein, who has run the world’s tenth-largest port since 2014 and was previously vice president for environment at Shell.

“But green is clearly the stretch goal. We consider that blue has only a role of temporary source and not necessarily of leader of the transition. Green will lead the transition, blue will be part of the equation but will fade over time.

The port authority, which is owned by the city of Rotterdam and the Dutch government, manages the hydrogen project by signing agreements with companies to build each link in the production chain. Shell and Air Liquide will produce hydrogen on site, while Air Products and Gunvor are planning a hydrogen import terminal. With fossil fuels to be part of the transition, the plan also calls for the use of carbon capture and storage in depleted North Sea oilfields.

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The Rotterdam terminals and hydrogen production facilities are expected to cost several hundred million euros each, while the planned pipeline from Rotterdam to the Rhine industrial area could cost 2.5 billion euros.

The North Sea wind farm is expected to generate 7.4 GW. Australia’s largest wind farm, being built by the Spanish company Acciona at Macintyre in Queenslandshould generate 1 GW.

“These are extremely ambitious deadlines but, having said that, we will need a mindset that says it is necessary and therefore makes it doable.”

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Mary I. Bruner