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How the energy revolution can become a success story

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Wilhelmshaven is setting the pace

The energy revolution in Germany is a Herculean task and it can only be handled properly if all involved pull together. One of the pioneers is the site in Wilhelmshaven. Using its ENERGY-HUB, which has recently been set up, it is showing what the journey towards having CO2-neutral energy supplies might look like in practice. Green hydrogen is the greatest hope for the future in this process.

A hub for producing and importing hydrogen and its derivatives

Politicians, business leaders and society as a whole are facing an enormous challenge: to pave the way to climate neutrality and still maintain reliable supplies. Germany would have to import 80 percent of its energy needs to achieve fully CO2-neutral energy usage at this time. However, this could change more quickly than many experts have suggested so far. The global geopolitical situation is also accelerating many plans to import and produce energy.

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The energy consumed in 2021 by

  • a washing machine: 200 kWh
  • an electric car: 2,250 kWh
  • a two-person household: 3,500 kWh
  • a coal-fired power station in Wilhelmshaven: 800 mWh1

kWh = kilowatt hour

mWh = megawatt hour

By symbolically driving the first pile into the ground, German Economics Minister, Robert Habeck, ushered in the work for a planned floating terminal for liquid natural gas (LNG) in Wilhelmshaven at the beginning of May. The first tanker is already due to dock there at the end of this year. However, supplying the country with liquid natural gas is only a short-term solution in order to soften Germany’s dependence on individual countries.

A huge amount of effort is needed to be able to meet the energy goals formulated in the Paris Agreement. However, this raises the question of whether an individual site such as Wilhelmshaven can make a significant contribution to this process? The major players involved in the ENERGY-HUB Port of Wilhelmshaven, which was launched in October 2021, are certain that it can. Supported by federal and state politicians, the regional initiative, which has now grown to 16 members, includes well-known companies such as UNIPER, ArcelorMittal, Salzgitter AG, Storag Etzel and Rhenus – as well as the Business Development Association in Wilhelmshaven. 

Wilhelmshaven has already been known as an energy hub for many decades – however, this has tended to be for fossil fuels such as coal and crude oil up to now. The town on the river Jade handles about one quarter of German imports of crude oil.2 This is set to change in future. Lower Saxony’s Environment Minister, Olaf Lies, believes that the region has the potential to promote climate protection, reliable supplies, value added, innovative capacity and forward-looking jobs. He expressed his gratitude for the companies’ commitment to the project at the first joint press conference held by ENERGY-HUB. The spokesperson, Uwe Oppitz, who is also the Managing Director of Rhenus Ports, accepted his remarks on behalf of the organisation.

„The transformation will not succeed without Wilhelmshaven.“
Olaf Lies | The Lower Saxony Minister for the Environment, Energy, Construction and Climate Protection

“Wilhelmshaven has precisely the resources and the potential that our country needs in future with a view to climate change,” the Mayor, Carsten Feist, added.

In addition to excellent logistical connections by road and rail, this primarily involves plenty of available space to attract companies and proximity to renewable energy sources, for example, in the form of wind power. Wilhelmshaven also benefits from being the only German deep-water port where huge energy tankers can dock – and from existing pipelines and waterways, which could be used for the import infrastructure both for hydrogen and for liquid gas.

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Key word: energy source

Hydrogen and its derivatives

It is still difficult to transport large quantities of hydrogen. One alternative is to transport hydrogen in the form of derivatives such as methanol or ammonia. Hydrogen is molecularly bonded and can be reconverted as an energy source by a splitting process at a later stage.

The hydrogen capital of Germany

Mayor Feist is not frightened by change or a rapid switch from fossil to renewable energy sources. He believes that there are huge opportunities for Wilhelmshaven and the region to attract new companies, which then bring with them innovative capacity for a climate-neutral economy.

„As far as energy supplies of the future are concerned: they will not work without Wilhelmshaven.“
Carsten Feist | Mayor of Wilhelmshaven

A study prepared by the German Energy Agency (dena) in conjunction with the Fraunhofer IST, which was funded for six months, proves that this is not just wishful thinking. According to the study, huge potential exists for future energy supplies. It concludes that half of the total hydrogen supplies for Germany could pass through Wilhelmshaven as early as 2030.3

The result of the study is a strategy document with recommendations for action and describes how the region of Wilhelmshaven can proceed along its accelerated path of transformation as an integrated, climate-neutral energy cluster and even become a hub for renewable energy sources and climate-friendly hydrogen and its derivatives.

What the future hydrogen cluster might look like:

  • Numerous hydrogen projects at participating companies form the basis
  • The pivotal point: the port of Wilhelmshaven with its fully developed space and excellent accessibility by sea.
  • Importing hydrogen in the form of ammonia and synthetic methane by sea
  • Importing power-to-liquid products using the existing logistics capacity
  • Local production from electrolysers with an overall output of 1.1 gigawatts
  • Goals until 2030: to cover more than 50 percent of Germany’s needs for hydrogen. One quarter of Germany’s energy supplies pass through Wilhelmshaven.4

The hydrogen is due to be transported via Wilhelmshaven’s connection to the long-distance hydrogen network and ultimately be distributed all over Germany and even in other European countries. The conditions for this are good, because the dense natural gas network in north-west Europe offers the opportunity of transforming the pipes to transport hydrogen. However, something else makes Wilhelmshaven special too: there are almost 100 former salt caverns in the surrounding area, which could be switched to hydrogen and provide more than half of Germany’s needs to store hydrogen with more than 22.5 terawatt hours.

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Grey, blue, green – not all types of hydrogen are identical

Hydrogen is not environmentally-friendly in itself. Grey hydrogen is based on fossil fuels and emits a great deal of CO2. Blue hydrogen is based on fossil fuels too. However, the carbon dioxide is collected and stored underground. The production of green hydrogen is associated with the highest levels of energy consumption using electrolysis. However, the great advantage here is that no damaging greenhouse gases are created. 

However, hydrogen is not the only thing that is set to play an important role in future: electricity generation from onshore and offshore wind energy, solar energy and processing biomass are set to be part of the energy hub’s operations too. It will be possible to transport offshore electricity to Wilhelmshaven via the “NeuConnect” route in a few years’ time – it is the first electricity cable from Great Britain to Germany. Transporting and converting the carbon dioxide, which occurs when producing hydrogen, could contribute to the energy revolution in future.

Not only Mayor Feist, but also the members of the ENERGY-HUB are convinced that the region can become an attractive base for energy-intensive industry. Here is one example: well-known steel manufacturers are cooperating internally with the UNIPER energy company and its logistics specialist, Rhenus, to possibly set up a production process for sponge iron to manufacture steel using green hydrogen.

„Wilhelmshaven can be a lighthouse in the energy revolution – both regionally and internationally.“
Uwe Oppitz | Spokesperson for the ENERGY-HUB Port of Wilhelmshaven

The hydrogen to be generated at the site of the former coal power station in Wilhelmshaven could be used to produce up to two million tonnes of green sponge iron per annum. This could save more than two million tonnes of CO2 and this would strengthen the transformation process in the steel industry in Germany. “The planned iron ore direct reduction plant would be an important local customer for hydrogen and could boost its production to operating almost exclusively with hydrogen by 2026,” says Uwe Oppitz, looking to the future with a sense of confidence.

Are you interested in the work of the ENERGY-HUB Port of Wilhelmshaven? Then visit one of our next networking events. The ENERGY-HUB will be presenting its work in Hanover on 29 June, in Gödens on 25-26 August and in Wilhelmshaven on 21 September 2022.

Would you like some more information?

What it takes to develop Wilhelmshaven and other regions into energy hubs, check it out in our checklist.

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Discover more about the potential that the ports within the Rhenus Group offer.

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Are you looking for a partner for offshore services? Read everything about how Rhenus Offshore Logistics is supporting wind parks.

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1Cf. Wilhelmshaven Business Development Association (editor): “ENERGY-HUB Port of Wilhelmshaven: Unser Beitrag zur Versorgungssicherheit heute und morgen“, p. 7, at: https://www.yumpu.com/de/document/read/66811184/eine-welt-im-wandel-eine-stadt-in-bewegung (accessed on 5 May 2022)

2Cf. Wilhelmshaven Business Development Association (editor): “ENERGY-HUB Port of Wilhelmshaven: Unser Beitrag zur Versorgungssicherheit heute und morgen”, p. 20, loc.cit. (accessed on 5 May 2022)

3Cf. German Energy Agency (editor) (dena, 2022): Ergebniszusammenfassung “Energy Hub Port of Wilhelmshaven”, p. 4

4Cf. Wilhelmshaven Business Development Association (editor): “ENERGY-HUB Port of Wilhelmshaven: Unser Beitrag zur Versorgungssicherheit heute und morgen“, p. 42, loc. cit (accessed on 5 May 2022)

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