Connecting Ports Talk Show Focusses on Hydrogen as an Alternative Energy Source

Entitled ‘Energy Transition – How is the port industry responding to hydrogen as the future solution?’ the debate continued HPC’s series of Talk Shows that began earlier in the year by highlighting the particular power-related challenges that all ports face in their efforts to decarbonise and better control the environmental impact of their operations. Many circumstances are common to all ports and terminals but others are often unique to an individual location. This time the hoped for potential of hydrogen power as a cleaner source of energy was discussed.

From the Port of Los Angeles Mike Galvin, Director of Waterfront and Commercial Real Estate described his port’s efforts to drive towards becoming a ‘hydrogen hub’. “While we have many challenges in making the energy transition from fossil fuels at the Port of Los Angeles we believe bringing our operators and tenants together as a communicative collective is essential,” he said.  “Our aims to reduce emissions by 2030 and beyond are clear but the achievement of these will only come when true confidence in our future strategies are instilled in all our stakeholders and they commit to communicating effectively. The challenges must be surmounted by the community as a whole.” 

Innovation is of course essential in progressing a transition to cleaner fuels and much needs to be learned in terms of how hydrogen can be utilised.  There are issues over the amount of power that is expended currently in production of the gas.  There are also safety concerns over storage in large quantities and loss of energy potential during transportation.  These difficulties can only be met through development of technology in the real world.  

Dr Georg Böttner, Head of Executive Board Projects / New Business Development / Hydrogen at HHLA in Hamburg, outlined some of the practical measures his terminal is taking to advance such technologies. “We have already achieved advances in enabling much of our equipment to run on battery-electric. Currently, we are concentrating on replacing the heavy duty equipment with higher energy demands, at least partly powered by hydrogen,” he explained. “It is important also that we prepare to act as a supply facility for future hydrogen demands. Ports are transport hubs and connecting points of multiple transport modes; they have to prioritise their role in this crucial aspect for the energy transition.” 

It is clear that as a modal interface, ports are preeminent, and the drive towards the energy transition is receiving much attention in the ports and maritime sector.  However, inland transport by vessel is in many parts of the world, not least in Europe, and a significant consumer  of fossil fuel.  Prasanna Colluru of Future Proof Shipping (FPS)  explained the technological advances and future possibilities for ship owners operating a hydrogen-powered fleet. 

“Our first inland container vessel is the ‘FPS Maas’ which is being retrofitted to sail on 100% hydrogen power by early next year.  We plan to build 25 zero-emission inland and short-sea vessels by 2030, using similar hydrogen fuel technology,” explained Colluru. 

“Such innovative design and investment, which consists of hydrogen tanks accompanied by a PEM Fuel cell system used to convert the hydrogen into electricity, batteries and an electric motor, promise to deliver a cleaner future for inland waterway as well as deep-sea vessels.” 

Such ‘future thinking’ in order to harness the possibilities of a hydrogen-powered transport system needs a reliable, economic and safe supply of the fuel.  The challenges surrounding the guarantee of such a supply in sufficient quantities to satisfy demand were discussed by Helge Urban, who is in charge of Business Development at Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies. 

Hydrogen is the best energy source that we know of, containing nearly three-times more potential than gasoline.  But it is not easy to handle. There are major concerns over the transport of hydrogen in a liquid or compressed state.  These concerns will be especially paramount if and when large quantities of the fuel are demanded by power-hungry ports and transport modes in the future. 

Urban outlined his organisations contribution to meeting these challenges. “This stems from our ability to make large-scale green hydrogen transport safely using a method that combines the gas with a thermal oil solution which renders it into a non-explosive state,” he said.  “The splitting of the gas from the carrier oil at its destination is a relatively simple process.  The oil can then return in the ship, road-going tank or rail-car that delivered it, ready to receive more hydrogen.” 

There of course remains much to be discussed, researched, developed and invested in how, and to what levels emissions must be reduced for various modes of freight transport and for the port operators that link them within the global supply chain.  Through its Connecting Ports Talk Shows HPC is dedicated to facilitating these continual efforts and provide a focal point in the quest for collaborative solutions to decarbonisation. 

So much more was debated the speakers and audience alike. The full recording can be accessed hereSession #02 "Energy Transition - How is the port industry responding to hydrogen?" (