Hydrogen as a future opportunity

HHLA intends to become climate-neutral by 2040 as part of its sustainability strategy. Hydrogen will make an important contribution as an energy source here, also for new jobs. In this overview, we answer your questions about the future opportunities of hydrogen and present various projects.

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Hydrogen refuelling station at HHLA Container Terminal Tollerort

Equipment such as straddle carriers, empty container stackers, forklift trucks, reach stackers, tractor units and heavy goods vehicles can be efficiently refuelled with green hydrogen at 350 bar in the Port of Hamburg.

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Five advantages of hydrogen

We are in the midst of a global transformation to avert the threat of climate change. Here, many hopes lie on hydrogen, but it has other advantages as well:  

  1. Hydrogen can be produced from water by electrolysis with the help of renewable energies (e.g. sun or wind). Combustion only produces water and heat. Both aspects are much more climate-friendly than fossil fuels. 
  2. Hydrogen can be used as a base material for various products (such as ammonia, methanol and synthetic fuels) in the chemical industry, transport, the energy sector and many other industries. 
  3. Hydrogen can be transported over long distances in various forms.  
  4. As an energy storage device (fuel cell), hydrogen technology offers other possibilities than batteries in electromobility. Transport over longer distances is possible and there are no long charging times.  
  5. The use of hydrogen as an energy carrier of the future can relieve the electricity grids because it can store and transport energy and release it at any time (or place).

We see all these advantages as the motivation to expand hydrogen as a new division of HHLA. HHLA Hydrogen Network, the innovation cluster Clean Port & Logistics and H2LOAD for retrofitting our heavy machinery at the terminal. The TransHyDE research project and the H2Global Foundation also play an important part on our roadmap. At the end of the day, it’s clear – we’re in the middle of a global transformation.

HHLA Hydrogen Network

HHLA launched the HHLA Hydrogen Network project in 2020 to identify the potential use of hydrogen in its own segments and beyond. This creates the framework for all of HHLA’s hydrogen activities.

Click through the picture gallery for explanations of the individual projects.
Because of the low volumetric energy density of hydrogen, a conversion for storage and transport of the gas is necessary. This enables the possibility to transport and store hydrogen in a safe and space-efficient way.
Since Germany cannot cover its own renewable energy needs from domestic sources, it is necessary to import energy on a large scale, e.g. in the form of hydrogen. This import will take place via ship and the associated seaport terminal.
Our large intermodal network is necessary to transport the converted hydrogen from the Port of Hamburg to the industrial regions in the European hinterland.
After conversion for transport and storage, the step of processing for usage is crucial, in order make the hydrogen usable again.
The last mile delivery is important to transport the hydrogen via truck to the final customer.

On the one hand, we are positioning ourselves as a logistics company in the field of hydrogen import and distribution. HHLA is very well equipped 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. On the other hand, we are looking into implementing fuel cells in handling equipment and heavy-load road vehicles. The aim of these efforts is to contribute to the sustainable reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and other harmful emissions.

Our hydrogen projects at a glance:

We classify our hydrogen projects into two groups: import and distribution of hydrogen and the use of hydrogen in terminal equipment.

Application projects

The following application projects aim to decarbonise the terminal equipment using hydrogen. While the Clean Port & Logistics cluster is focusing on initial equipment testing, the H2LOAD project is preparing to facilitate larger applications at the terminal.

Heavy port technology to be powered by hydrogen

With Clean Port & Logistics, HHLA has created an innovation cluster to test hydrogen-powered equipment in port logistics. In order to reduce emissions in port handling and the associated logistics chains, the innovation cluster has the support of the German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI).

Testing hydrogen in operation at the container terminal

H2LOAD: Hydrogen Logistics Applications and Distribution

Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG intends to decarbonise its operations in Hamburg by using heavy duty vehicles with hydrogen fuel cells on its terminals as well as on the last mile container traffic.

Import and distribution

HHLA is actively involved in current projects that focus on the import and distribution of hydrogen as an energy source. All the projects aim to investigate the economically feasible import and transport of the new fuel source, as well as to simplify its market ramp-up.

Transporting hydrogen economically

The transport (Trans) of hydrogen (Hy) in Germany (DE) is the central focus of TransHyDE. In order to use hydrogen sensibly, there needs to be widespread availability. TransHyDE is the solution. A comprehensive approach to the production, transportation and use of hydrogen is being developed alongside further project partners.

Find out more about TransHyDE on the Federal Ministry of Education and Research’s website

Greener hydrogen for the markets.

The H2Global Foundation brings together numerous participants who want to contribute to the economic market launch of green hydrogen. The H2Global Foundation will implement a funding concept specially developed for this purpose. We have been involved in this sustainability initiative since the very beginning. Greener hydrogen for the market.

More on the H2Global Foundation

Hydrogen in figures

We start the climate engine powered by hydrogen

H2 is a highly topical subject at HHLA right now. The company aims to be climate neutral by 2040. Hydrogen as an energy source can make a significant contribution to decarbonisation. A brief interview with Karin Debacher, Head of Hydrogen Projects, on why so many companies are currently looking at hydrogen and fuel cells. She says for us and logistics to become carbon neutral, we need to test and gain experience to make the technology reliably usable and more economical.

HHLA climate blueprint for Germany and Europe

With several hundred handling units and approximately 17,000 trucks stopping at the Port of Hamburg daily, the potential for decarbonisation is enormous. That is why we are planning an initiative in Hamburg that can be used as a blueprint for sites across Europe.


We have founded the Clean Port & Logistics innovation cluster, which is funded by the German government. It forms an open organisational framework that aims to bring together equipment manufacturers, port and logistics companies, scientific partners, renewable hydrogen producers, software companies and operators or manufacturers of refuelling stations. Through supra-regional cooperation, we want to conduct tests and investigate how hydrogen can be reliably used as a fuel in port handling and heavy-lift logistics.


First, the necessary tests, simulations, preliminary work and analyses are designed, then conclusions are drawn and training and education concepts are also developed straight away. At the core of activities is the construction of a test centre for hydrogen-powered equipment at the HHLA Container Terminal Tollerort in Hamburg. With this, we want to get the show on the road as quickly as possible.

Karin Debacher, Head of Hydrogen Projects

Does hydrogen accelerate climate change?

In this HHLA Talk, we discuss how hydrogen as an fuel source can drive forward decarbonisation and what opportunities it creates for HHLA. Strategic partnerships and participation in nationwide projects such as TransHyDE have already been set in motion. Georg Böttner from our hydrogen team was interviewed.

HHLA Talk with Georg Böttner

Hydrogen in logistics

When it comes to protecting our climate, there has recently been a real change of course in the economy. The number of research projects aimed at replacing conventional fuels is growing throughout Germany. Specific large-scale hydrogen projects are already being set up in Hamburg. The Hanseatic city intends to provide a total volume of € 1.1 billion for investments for the next five years, with € 520 million of this amount coming in the form of subsidies from the federal government and the EU. Therefore, Hamburg is regarded as a hydrogen technology pioneer.

Inland waterway ships are already regarded as the most eco-friendly mode of transport between seaports and their hinterlands. Launched at the end of May 2021 in Saxony-Anhalt, the pusher boat Elektra is increasing standards even further. It runs completely emission-free thanks to hydrogen fuel cells and 20 tonnes of rechargeable batteries on board. A range of suppliers were involved in the construction of the Elektra. The total cost of the scientifically assisted project is around € 13 million.


Electric or hydrogen trucks – which will make the running? There is no easy answer. The H2 truck benefits from larger ranges of up to 1,000 kilometres and faster refuelling. At the same time, refuelling technology that is safe to use needs to be developed. Just nine of the 100 H2 refuelling stations dotted around the country can currently accommodate heavy goods vehicles. “So it’s a good thing that we plan to offer third parties access to our HHLA hydrogen refuelling station too,” says HHLA hydrogen expert Karin Debacher.

You have questions about hydrogen? We have the answers

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.

More information about the transport of hydrogen

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.

Contact persons

Karin Debacher


Head of Hydrogen Projects

Phone +49 40 3088-3830

Janne Oeverdiek


Management Clean Port & Logistics Innovation Cluster

Phone +49 151 62681205

Leif Carstens


Management Clean Port & Logistics Innovation Cluster

Mobile +49 151 53214078

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