Hydrogen, its uses and what HHLA has to do with it

Hydrogen can be obtained by electrolysis from water and renewable electricity. The element has many uses – for example, as a base material for various products (ammonia, methanol, synthetic fuels) in the chemical industry, in transportation, in the energy sector, etc. It can be transported over long distances in various forms while being used as an energy storage system. Hydrogen is expected to relieve and stabilise power grids because it can store energy for material use, transport it, and release it any time (or anywhere) – for example, when electricity from renewable energy sources is not available.

Hydrogen has been produced for decades using proven techniques and has been primarily obtained from natural gas thus far (grey hydrogen). Vehicles powered by hydrogen or fuel cells have been actively tested since the early 1970s and are already in use, particularly in local public transport.

For a number of years, many of those involved in the energy transition have been convinced that hydrogen could replace many fossil fuels in the long term. However, this requires green hydrogen, which is generated with green electricity (wind, water, sun...). At present, however, there are not sufficient options for generating renewable energies in Europe – and especially in Germany – that would enable production of an adequate amount of green hydrogen.

The federal government’s national hydrogen strategy is thus to import hydrogen from potential producing regions (e.g. parts of North Africa, the Middle East, northern Europe) to be used in the industrial centres of Europe. As a result, there is an acute need for long-range distribution of the fuel.

To really replace fossil fuels, large amounts of (green) hydrogen must be transported over large distances and stored in distribution centres. Pipelines are one option under consideration, though the existing gas network would first have to be technically upgraded.

The compression and storage of hydrogen in pressure tanks or special containers is also already possible but must be further developed for large-scale use. The element can be stored and transported in gaseous form at 200 to 700 bar or in liquid form at minus 253 degrees Celsius in cryotanks.

Another possibility is carrier materials such as ammonia, methanol or other LOHCs (liquid organic hydrogen carriers), which are still being researched and optimised. Materials that can absorb large quantities of hydrogen safely, and which consume little energy and release it without losses, would be suitable for this. LOHCs exist that can store 57 kilogrammes of hydrogen in one litre. This makes them well suited to transporting hydrogen in liquid form without their requiring a great deal of energy for cooling. At the same time, LOHCs allow nearly unlimited and loss-free switching between hydrogen-rich and low-hydrogen states.

HHLA intends to become climate-neutral by 2040 as part of its sustainability strategy. The use of hydrogen as an energy source can make a key contribution to decarbonisation of the company. The focus is on implementing fuel cells in handling equipment and heavy-load road vehicles.

HHLA’s strategy is also to establish profitable growth areas along the transport flows of the future. The company is convinced that hydrogen is a promising sector. HHLA is very well positioned to take advantage of the new opportunities in hydrogen import and transportation because of its network of ports and connections that extend into the European hinterland.

As one of the biggest providers of handling and intermodal logistics services in Europe, HHLA supports the transformation from fossil to hydrogen-based fuels with its expertise and appropriate facilities. The company has set itself the challenge of storing hydrogen and transporting it to the end users in an appropriate form. Furthermore, HHLA will use the opportunities that arise to completely decarbonise logistics chains, for example by pushing the use of fuel cells.

Hydrogen is a natural element that takes the form of gas at normal environmental temperatures. Coal gas that consisted of more than 51 percent hydrogen was already used in households for heating and cooking in the middle of the last century. If an unintended leak occurs, there are usually no problems because no toxic substances are produced. However, since hydrogen is a flammable gas, the usual safety standards must naturally be observed in its handling and storage. The handling and transportation of such goods is part of HHLA’s daily business.