Flemish Minister for Economy and Innovation, Hilde Crevits (CD&V), signed on Wednesday a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Australia’s island state Tasmania to import green hydrogen or ammonia through the Ports of Antwerp and Zeebrugge.
Belgium wants to become a ‘renewable energy import hub’ for Europe. Earlier, her federal colleague, Tinne Van der Straeten (Groen), signed comparable MoUs with Oman and Namibia. Antwerp Port and Zeebrugge Port are to set up a hydrogen import logistic chain with Chile.
The ports of Zeebrugge and Antwerp are already today important hubs for distributing natural gas and hydrogen used in the chemical industry. It’s part of the federal plans to meet the climate goals set by the Paris Agreement. But the regions are starting to move as well.
“Due to the strategic locations of our harbors and the expertise of our industry, research, and educational institutions, we are holding all trump cards to become the most important hydrogen hub of Western Europe,” Crevits told Belga. “With Tasmania, we have an equally ambitious partner at our side with great potential for production and export of green hydrogen to our region.”
According to Prime Minister Peter Gutwein, Tasmania is the only location in Australia currently capable of producing 100 percent renewable electricity all the time, which can be utilized for green hydrogen production. But that wasn’t unnoticed in the Netherlands, and the Dutch already signed an MoU for its Port of Rotterdam in December.
24 376 km from Antwerp
Tasmania is an island state lying 240 km to the south of the Australian mainland, separated from it by Bass Strait. Its principal port and center of the hydrogen industry is Bell Bay on the eastern shore of the Tamar River, in northern Tasmania, some 13 162 nautical miles or 24 376 km from the Port of Antwerp. At an average speed of 12 to 16 knots, a tanker needs at least 34 to 45 days to get there.
Tasmania is ambitious, for sure, to become a significant green hydrogen producer in the world. In 2020, it already provided entirely in its own needs with renewable energy from solar panels, hydropower plants, and wind parks. By 2040, it wants to produce double of green energy than it needs, to export it to the world as green hydrogen, made by electrolysis.
Australia’s leading energy producer Woodside has secured in November 2021 land for its proposed H2TAS hydrogen plant in Bell Bay for large-scale production of renewable hydrogen and ammonia.
The project has the potential to support up to 1.7 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy from a combination of hydropower and wind power to create a 100% renewable ammonia product for export as well as renewable hydrogen for domestic use. The initial phase would have a capacity of up to 300 megawatts (MW) and target production of 200 000 tons per annum (TPA) of ammonia, Woodside says.
Importing hydrogen to Belgium cost-effective
In Belgium, the Hydrogen Import Coalition (HIC) study dating from January 2021 shows that shipping wind and solar energy from other sunny and windy parts of the world to Belgian ports is ‘feasible and cost-effective’. The idea is to use LNG carriers that are relatively easy to be used to transport liquified e-fuels like ammonia, methanol, and synthetic methane.
The partners say that there is not enough renewable energy available in Belgium to achieve the climate goal of an 80% CO2 reduction by 2050. But with public-private funding, hydrogen could be a viable solution to get off the oil drip. And the Belgian harbors are well equipped to function as a hub for importing a green alternative.
Producing three times more
The Coalition is formed by several big names, with dredger DEME, electricity and gas provider Engie, gas tanker fleet operator Exmar, grid manager Fluxys, the Ports of Antwerp and Zeebrugge, and WaterstofNet (HydrogenNet). The latter is a non-profit organization set up to develop sustainable hydrogen projects.
The basic idea is quite simple. The same solar panel, for instance, produces up to three times more in the Middle East or Southern Europe than in North-Western Europe. Therefore, solar energy can be made in the south with less effort, translating into ‘cheaper’.
Australia, Morocco, or Oman?
Belgium, the Netherlands, and Western Germany are highly industrialized and consume much more energy than can be produced locally. So, it is vital to find a way to import it from regions where wind and solar are abundant. The study shows that possible source regions with good infrastructure are Morocco, Oman, Chile, and Australia.
You could use the energy to produce hydrogen locally and ship it as such. But the low volumetric energy density of hydrogen as gas would require compressing it in massive tanks and storing it at temperatures of -253°C. Converting it to an e-fuel like methane (alkane), methanol (alcohol), or ammonia (nitrogen hydride), and extracting the hydrogen after transport, might be a simple way to do it alternatively.
“When delivered to Belgium, the cost range of imported renewable energy from low-cost locations lies in the range of €65-90 per MWh by 2030-2035 with a further potential cost reduction to €55-75/MWh or less by 2050,” the study concludes.
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