Future is already here. How hydrogen gains ground in logistics

2021/05/12 at 12:57 PM

To achieve the strategic goal of the European Green Deal to decarbonise the continent, the logistics sector is paying more and more attention to the innovative types of fuels. Hydrogen is one of the most promising solutions in this regard. Where and how could it be applied?

It is hard to imagine an intermodal terminal without reach stackers. This everyday picture will change as diesel vehicles will be replacing hydrogen ones in the future. To some extent, the expected future is already here. Recently, the US-based global forklift supplier, Hyster, announced that it was developing a hydrogen-powered reach stacker within the H2Ports project for the Port of Valencia in Spain. The vehicle will have capacity and speed characteristics, similar to the diesel analogue, but with one key difference: it will only emit water and heat. Hyster plans to test its innovation in real conditions at two maritime facilities, MSC Terminal Valencia and Valencia Terminal Europa (part of Grimaldi Group).

Hydrogen-powered truck, source: Arcola Energy

Getting familiar with a new fuel

H2Ports is an initiative called to demonstrate and validate in real port operations innovative hydrogen-based solutions. There are also several other similar projects in Europe designed to develop the use of hydrogen fuel in shipping and ports. HyShip is one of them. It was established in 2020. Being led by Norwegian shipping operator Wilhelmsen, HyShip consortium develops the Topeka concept, a non-emission service to operate between the offshore supply bases on the Norwegian west coast. It is the first prototype of a ro-ro vessel that will run on a battery pack and a specialised proton exchange membrane hydrogen fuel cell. The consortium also develops several LH2-powered vessels, including a smaller tanker barge, a fast ferry and a deep-sea vessel.

Another project is MARANDA, which was founded in 2017 to accelerate the introduction of fuel cell and hydrogen in the maritime sector. Later it was stated that the arctic research ship Aranda would become its demonstration vessel to be equipped with a hydrogen fuel cell system. The vessel was supposed to be of double benefit as it was expected to use excess hydrogen from the chemical industry in Finland. However, there are no updates on this project since 2020.

The Flagships is one of the projects we will most likely hear about it soon. Its demo vessels include the world’s first commercial cargo transport vessel operating on hydrogen, plying the river Seine in Paris. Commercial operations are scheduled to be launched for 2021. It will be operated by Compagnie Fluvial de Transport, the French inland shipping company focused on developing urban distribution in Paris and its surroundings by transport vessels.

Europe’s hydrogen gate

The Port of Rotterdam is not only the largest European container port. It is also considered to be the main energy port of Northwest Europe. Currently, 13 per cent of the European Union’s total energy needs are delivered via the Port of Rotterdam every year. At present, this is mostly crude oil. The port authority is committed to keeping this function in the future but with another energy basis, which will consist primarily of hydrogen.

Uniper production facility in the Port of Rotterdam, source: Uniper

According to the Port of Rotterdam, demand in hydrogen will significantly increase, especially in the Dutch market. Today’s annual requirement is estimates at 0,4 million tonnes annually in Rotterdam and 0,8 million tonnes in the Netherlands. This figures will rise to almost 14 million tonnes by 2050. Approximately half of this amount, 7 million tonnes, will run through Rotterdam. Germany could increase the demand by additional 8 million tonnes while other Northwest European countries could require 5 million tonnes of hydrogen. As a result, the hydrogen volumes transported via Rotterdam could increase of 5,000 per cent by 2050. For this purpose, hydrogen system combining production, use, import and transit flows of hydrogen to different parts of the Netherlands and Northwest Europe to be developed and launched by 2030.

The Port of Rotterdam Authority and Gasunie are working on an initiative to have the Backbone pipeline for hydrogen running through the port as early as 2023. This pipeline will be devoted to supply hydrogen to the companies in the port. The Backbone will be connected to Gasunie’s national infrastructure throughout the Netherlands.

Currently, Uniper and the Port of Rotterdam are investigating the possibility of large-scale production of “green” hydrogen at the Maasvlakte area in Rotterdam using the offshore wind farms. The ambition is to realise a hydrogen plant on the site of Uniper by 2025 with a capacity of 100 megawatts and to expand this capacity to 500 megawatts. The feasibility study to be completed this summer. As for “blue” hydrogen, its low-carbon production to be achieved by capturing and storing the CO2 below the seabed in depleted gas fields in the North Sea. The new fuel and infrastructure partially will be used for 500 new hydrogen-powered trucks which are expected to be based in the Port of Rotterdam area by 2025.

Hyundai XCIENT Fuel Cell trucks, source: Hyundai Motor

Hydrogen for trucks and trains

Hydrogen is gaining particular popularity among truck manufacturers. Several global companies have presented hydrogen-powered heavy trucks over the last year. Hyundai is going to roll out 1,600 hydrogen vehicles of the XCIENT Fuel Cell type by 2025. It was presented in July 2020 and is considered as the world’s first fuel cell heavy-duty truck. In September 2020, Daimler Truck celebrated the premiere of the fuel-cell concept truck Mercedes-Benz GenH2 Truck. In December of the same year, Toyota announced delivery of its first two heavy duty hydrogen-powered trucks of Kenworth T680 type to the US.

As for the railway sector, hydrogen is still used mostly for passenger transport (Coradia iLint trains by Alstom, Mireo by Siemens). There are only a few projects dedicated to freight transport. For instance, in March, Polish rolling stock manufacturer Pesa Bydgoszcz announced that it was completing the work on its first hydrogen locomotive. According to the company’s CEO, Krzysztof Zdziarski, it will be unveiled as early as 2021. In 2022, the vehicle must be certified and fully operational.

In North America, the first hydrogen-powered freight locomotive can be built by the Canadian Pacific Railway. This year the company started to develop a hydrogen locomotive based on a conventional diesel vehicle. Six fuel cell modules with a capacity of 200 kilowatts will be installed instead of a diesel engine and a generator. If the trial is successful, Canadian Pacific is going to put this technology into practice.

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