The Port of Hamburg could become Europe’s largest green hydrogen project

The Port of Hamburg. Photo credit: Joerg Boethling.

By Anders Lorenzen

The Port of Hamburg in northern Germany is just one of the latest places to jump in on the green hydrogen bandwagon.

A coalition of the companies Vattenfall, Shell, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) as well as Hamburg’s municipal heat supplier, Hamburg Wärme, signed a Letter of Intent to build one of the world’s largest electrolysers, with a capacity of 100 megawatts (MW) in the Port of Hamburg.  As both a symbol and signal of the energy transition, it will be constructed on the site of the former Moorburg coal-fired power plant.  

The metropolitan region of Hamburg believes this demonstrates that they are taking a leading position in the European green hydrogen economy and that they’re well placed to do this with a high provision of renewables in the surrounding areas. 

In addition, the German government has pledged nine billion euros for the development of a green hydrogen economy prompted by forecasts suggesting that hydrogen in Europe could create 5.4 million jobs and 800 billion euros in annual sales by 2050.

Infographic of the proposed project.

The project

The companies are exploring how to produce the hydrogen from wind and solar at the site and utilise it. Aside from the construction of a scalable electrolyser with an initial output of 100 megawatts (MW), the development of a “Green Energy Hub” is also involved. 

This would expose the extent to which the existing infrastructure of the Moorburg location can be used for the production of energy from renewable sources; this also includes the necessary logistics chains and storage options for hydrogen. Pending final investment decisions and planning approvals and the clearing of the site, production is anticipated during the course of 2025 which, based on other known projects, make it the largest electrolyser plant in Europe.

In addition, the partners will apply for funding through the EU programme  “Important Projects of Common European Interest” (IPCEI) during the first quarter of 2021. The companies believe the energy location has ideal conditions for further use. 

It is connected to both the national 380,000-volt transmission network and the 110,000-volt network of the City of Hamburg.  International shipping can use the location directly and use the quay and port facilities as an import terminal. In addition, the municipal gas network company intends to expand a hydrogen network in the port within ten years and is already working on the necessary distribution infrastructure. 

Andreas Regnell, Senior Vice President and Head of Strategic Development, Vattenfall explaining why they’re involved in the project, said  “The production of fossil-free hydrogen is one key to the decarbonisation of the industrial and the transport sectors. Vattenfall wants to enable fossil free living within one generation and we have high ambitions to grow within renewable energy production in the markets where we operate. 

In this project, we can contribute with our expertise and experience and the unique Moorburg site that has the infrastructure necessary for large scale production of hydrogen.”

The future meets the past

If as anticipated, the project gets the go-ahead, it will demonstrate how the future meets the past. For many years Moorburg was the site of a gas-fired power plant operated by Hamburgische Electricitäts-Werke, and Vattenfall had been operating a coal-fired power plant here since 2015. The operations were terminated after the power plant won a bid in the auction for the nationwide coal phase-out in December 2020. A decision by the transmission system operator on the system relevance of the plant is expected this month. 

As the City of Hamburg’s government has previously agreed to examine and support the feasibility of sector coupling, as well as the establishment of hydrogen production in the city-state, hopes are high that this project will win final approval.

And optimism was not dented after Michael Westhagemann, the Minister for Economy and Innovation of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, said: “I always believed in the project at the Moorburg site. There is no better location in Hamburg for a scalable electrolyser of this size. We have direct access to the supply of green electricity from wind power – and thus the possibility of actually producing green hydrogen in relevant quantities.”

A recent OECD study confirms that the Hamburg Metropolitan Region is particularly well suited for the development of a green hydrogen economy due to its geographical location and infrastructure.  It is also well placed to link up with the surrounding areas of northern Germany and could play a key role in meeting the climate targets of the region.

The Port of Hamburg is the largest seaport in Germany and the third-largest in Europe and is known as ‘Germany’s Gateway to the World’.

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