Hydrogen: Hamburg is Setting the Pace for Europe

(Click onto picture to download / port lights / LOOK Bildagentur der Fotografen

Hamburg’s Minister of Economy and Innovation, Michael Westhagemann, refers to it as the "key to climate neutrality". Scientist Michael Fröba is even convinced that it is crucial in completing the German „Energiewende”: for both of them, green hydrogen is the fuel of the future and perfect for storing energy! And while the EU supports the hydrogen economy with 470 billion euros and the Federal Republic of Germany works on being the “Hydrogen Republic of Germany”, Hamburg is set to become the hydrogen capital of the country, perhaps even of the whole of Europe.

Hydrogen certainly does have a lot of potential: it is the most common substance in the universe. Forming covalent compounds with other elements, it exists in molecular form such as water or organic compounds – and it must be separated from the other parts of these chemical combinations to use it. This separation can only be achieved by employing energy. At the moment this energy is mainly generated from fossil fuels, particularly from natural gas, producing so-called grey hydrogen. However, the future belongs to green hydrogen, which is produced through electrolysis of water – using renewable energies.

And it is this future need for a large amount of renewable energies that makes Northern Germany such a key part of the “Hydrogen Republic of Germany”: it is quite simply the best location for wind power plants that generate a lot of renewable energy. Northern Germany’s centre is Hamburg with its excellent infrastructure and its port, where – contrary to the cliché of elegant Hanseatic restraint – much is done at once.

Here are some examples of what is happening in Hamburg at the moment:

  • The companies Vattenfall, Shell, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) and Hamburg’s municipal heat supplier “Hamburg Wärme” are planning to build one of the world’s biggest plant for hydrogen electrolysis – with a capacity of 100MW – in the port of Hamburg. According to estimates, the plant could produce two tons of hydrogen per hour, i.e. an amount which would enable a car to drive for 20,000 kilometers.
  • Furthermore, an actual gas pipe network is being developed. Working together with the city’s municipal supplier „Gasnetz Hamburg“, the local environmental authorities are setting up a climate neutral energy supply for the port’s big industrial companies: the HH-WIN (Hamburg’s hydrogen-industrialism-network), will be 45 kilometers long and will provide the steel, copper and aluminium industries – which are mainly situated on the Southern shore of the river Elbe – with green hydrogen by 2030.
  • Hamburg has joined forces with four other federal states that are located in Northern Germany (Bremen, Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg Western Pomerania, Lower Saxony) to create the „Northern German Hydrogen Alliance“, thereby making it possible to provide all of those that are interested with enough hydrogen. Nine key industries will be supplied with hydrogen and an energy amount of at least 500 MW from hydrogen electrolysis should be available in the Northern part of Germany by 2025 – that would be five times the amount of what the world’s biggest electrolysis plant is capable of producing. The main goal is to establish a green hydrogen economy whose effects would reach far beyond the Northern part of Germany. The coastal provinces have a lot to offer: a strong ecological system, the best on-site conditions, and several funding programs. Yet another advantage is the top-level research that is happening here: Northern Germany is the European thinktank for the hydrogen economy. The alliance’s subsidy amount is nine billion euros.
  • Hamburg is a driving force with regard to hydrogen: in addition to the city’s port, there is also the local Hamburger Hochbahn that is encouraging the use of hydrogen. It acts as a forerunner among its fellow municipal transport authorities with regard to switching towards emission-free fuels – by buying 50 hydrogen buses as a first step.
  • Obviously, Hamburg is also considering hydrogen with regard to aerial transportation. The aircraft manufacturer Airbus is currently developing a plane that is fuelled by hydrogen, while the local airport is investing in hydrogen to create a much-needed hydrogen-infrastructure: the airport’s vehicles will be mainly fuelled by hydrogen in the future. Whether the airport might get its own electrolysis plant for generating hydrogen – the hydrogen planes will have to be refuelled after all – is currently under discussion.

It is Hamburg’s port, the local airport, and the many companies which are situated in this area that make the city so important as a hydrogen location – but there is also the Helmholtz Centre in the nearby town of Geesthacht where scientists are working on a new kind of storage facility for hydrogen, which might be even used in cars.

Minister Westhagemann believes that the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement – whose goal is to limit global warming – has acted as a „supercharger” for green hydrogen. Accordingly, the Paris Climate Agreement’s goals in the areas of mobility and manufacturing cannot be achieved without hydrogen. And he wants his city and the whole of Northern Germany to be more than just a part (even if it’s the capital) of the “Hydrogen Republic of Germany”. The coastal region, according to Westhagemann’s vision, is to build a network infrastructure for the whole of Northern Europe. The topic of hydrogen is gaining in importance and Hamburg could be playing a crucial role in supporting that development. He demands all stakeholders to “get faster, use the dynamic, set ambitious goals”. The potential is enormous, and it is based on a broad foundation: “Knowledge, experts, companies – Hamburg has everything that is needed.”