Fans of green hydrogen have had lots to cheer about over the past year or so, and it looks like they are just getting warmed up. Last week, the global energy firm Uniper announced that it has scrapped plans for a massive new liquefied natural gas terminal at Wilhelmshaven in Germany. Instead, the company will build an equally massive but less planet-killing green hydrogen hub at the site, with a green ammonia twist to boot.
Uniper Ditching Natural Gas Dream For Green Hydrogen Scheme
To be clear, Germany-based Uniper is a diversified energy company that still has extensive natural gas and coal assets under its belt, including a 1.07 gigawatt coal power plant in Rotterdam that went into operation in 2016.
The company also has renewable energy in its portfolio, and last spring it began hatching plans to decarbonize with an assist from both natural gas and green H2, as well as carbon capture.
That may be so, but the new hydrogen hub announcement appears to put a damper on both natural gas and carbon capture over the long run.
Uniper described its new plans in a press release earlier this week, It buried the bad news for natural gas and carbon capture down in the final paragraph, which is this:
“Originally, Uniper explored the idea of constructing a floating import terminal for liquefied natural gas (LNG) at the Wilhelmshaven site. In October 2020, a market test to show binding interest proved that there is currently not enough interest in the LNG sector in terms of booking large, long-term capacities for LNG regasification in Germany.”
Green Hydrogen Brings Green Ammonia To The Fight
CleanTechnica has been eyeballing the role that green ammonia could play in the sparkling green hydrogen economy of the future, and it looks like Uniper is not waiting around for the ammonia chips to fall.
Uniper describes the new “Green Wilhelmshaven” project as a national green hydrogen hub for Germany, with an initial goal of leveraging imported green ammonia to produce the green hydrogen.
For those of you new to the green ammonia/green hydrogen connection, the idea is that hydrogen gas (H2) is expensive to transport in bulk, but it could become less expensive if carried in another form, such as ammonia (NH3). The green angle comes in when you produce ammonia by forcing hydrogen from water with an assist from renewable energy, and combine it with nitrogen from ambient air. That’s a sharp sustainability contrast to conventional ammonia, which is made from fossils.
When the ammonia arrives at its destination, you can “crack” it to release the hydrogen. Between the shipping and the cracking, there are still some holes in the sustainability equation to be resolved. Cost could be an issue, too, though Uniper has apparently seen enough R&D to firm up its plans.
“An import terminal for green ammonia is planned,” explains Uniper. “The terminal is planned to be equipped with an ‘ammonia cracker’ for producing green hydrogen and will also be connected to the planned hydrogen network.”
That’s just for starters. To go with the imported green ammonia, Uniper is also examining the feasibility of constructing a 410-megawatt, electrolysis facility powered by renewable energy, which would enable it to produce hydrogen from water on site.
With the combo of imported ammonia and on-site electrolysis, Uniper anticipates that it could meet 10% of Germany’s total hydrogen demand by 2030.
“The generated climate friendly hydrogen will primarily be used to supply local industry, but it will also be possible to feed it into the national hydrogen network. This approach will help to solve one of the key problems of energy transition: security of supply,” Uniper states.
The Green Hydrogen Scramble & The Green Steel Angle
Uniper’s green hydrogen plans may sound somewhat overly ambitious, but they are in line with the firm’s home nation of Germany.
“Currently, Germany plans to generate 14 TWh of green hydrogen in 2030, but the demand for that year is forecast to be 90–100 TWh — the discrepancy between these two figures is abundantly clear,” explains Uniper COO David Bryson. “We will be heavily dependent on imports if we want to use hydrogen to help us achieve our climate goals.”
Uniper is also looking for the Wilhemshaven project to carve a foothold for itself in the steel decarbonization movement.
“The aim is to produce around 2 million metric tons of ‘green’ crude iron using hydrogen generated via wind power. Uniper is working with Salzgitter and Rhenus Logistics, the city of Wilhelmshaven and the state of Lower Saxony on this project,” Uniper explains.
Iron ore is a main ingredient in steel manufacturing, and Volvo is already fully on board with the green steel angle.
“Volvo will start manufacturing the first concept vehicles and machines with steel from SSAB using hydrogen already in 2021,” Volvo explained in a press release earlier this week, adding that “Together, the two companies will develop a number of products of fossil-free steel with the goal of reaching serial production within a few years.”
The Natural Gas Wibble-Wobble
According to recent reports the global natural gas market has been holding up, at least for now. However, the replacement of a proposed floating LNG terminal with a new green hydrogen hub is not the only sign of wibble-wobble to emerge this year, especially in the US.
In January the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission sealed the fate of the much-maligned Jordan Cove LNG terminal in Oregon, and last month Reuters reported that the LNG developer Annova hit the brakes on a proposed LNG terminal in Texas.
US activists have also been working on EU buyers to reject “dirty” natural gas from fields in Texas and elsewhere in the US, citing lax rules on methane flaring among other issues. Apparently their efforts have been paying off. Last fall, France canceled a $7 billion, 20-year LNG deal that would have brought US gas into France, on account of conflict with its environmental goals.
Meanwhile, the Energy Department was hammering away at green hydrogen all during the Trump administration, and indications are that it will keep on hammering right on through the Biden administration, too.
Recent developments include an interesting wind energy arrangement with the Netherlands, cutting edge hydrogen R&D under the ARPA-E umbrella, and a cost-reducing initiative for electrolysis under the wing of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
Earlier this week the Energy Department also announced a new $162 million round of funding for technologies that decarbonize trucks and cars, and they expect hydrogen fuel cell vehicles to be part of the mix.
The Energy Department’s press announcement left the question of green hydrogen dangling, but renewable hydrogen hubs are already beginning to organize in various parts of the US, especially the parts with offshore wind resources at hand.
In particular, keep an eye on the green ammonia-hydrogen and offshore wind energy connection in Louisiana. A new hydrogen hub is also brewing in Texas, where energy innovators could provide a powerful pushback against efforts to cling to a fossil fuel past.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Photo: LNG ship courtesy of Uniper.
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