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PSA Antwerp mulls autonomous tanking amongst solutions to hydrogen challenges

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Operatives at PSA Antwerp will consider autonomous tanking amongst its solutions to overcome challenges in hydrogen cargo operations at its terminal.

The terminal operator has recently conducted a study at its Europa Terminal for a Terberg hydrogen-powered tractor and mobile filling stations to assess the viability of the zero-emission fuel.

Zero-emission hydrogen as a fuel in ports is on a breath-taking pace of uptake: in Rubber-Tyred Gantry Cranes; Reachstackers; and trucks transporting cargo from terminals.

The terminal operator told PTI the Hydrolog project, a demonstrator project set up by the Flanders Institute for Logistics (VIL), answers pressing issues on hydrogen.

Operations

There is “no one size fits all” solution to challenges such as repeated-fuelling trips and lower life-cycle of hydrogen fuel cells, noted Bart Paijmans, Project Leader of Engineering, and Wouter Vriens, Project Manager of Equipment at PSA Antwerp.

“To overcome the higher frequency of refuelling we are looking into autonomous tanking and facilities that can refuel a large amount of straddle carriers in parallel,” Vriens and Paijmans said in a written statement to PTI.

Managing the energy transition from fossil fuels to hydrogen will require a “large amount of hydrogen” to be supplied at high rates and unsupervised, especially for the likes of a terminal the size of PSA Antwerp.

“A proper hydrogen infrastructure, filling stations and direct connections through pipelines, is indispensable. Such an installation would be unique in its kind due to its size, capacity, autonomy and required reliability,” the pair said.

Accelerating adoption

Vriens and Paijmans called for a three-pronged approach moving forward to catalyse adoption of hydrogen in the ports industry.

They added that there is a need to bring together a greater number of “larger players” to share knowledge and develop a common view from industry regarding what is needed for full breakthrough.

Additionally, “less complex funding schemes” should be accessible to the benefit of smaller companies, they said.

“Taking away as many obstructions for renewable energy production as possible and the existence of a free hydrogen market are some other ideas,” Vriens and Paijmans added.

“At PSA Antwerp, we want take our part in the energy transition. By participating in demonstrations and tests, we will gain more knowledge together with our partners, as innovation today is the most powerful when being part of a network.”

Cost

The current cost of green hydrogen is one of the main challenges the alternative fuel faces today, explained Vriens and Paijmans.

According to the European Commission estimated costs for renewable hydrogen are 2.5-5.5 €/kg ($3.05-$6.7/kg).

“When looking at the costs, you have to take the entire hydrogen value chain into account: the generation, storage and distribution,” the pair noted.

“The production cost of hydrogen is influenced by technical, regulatory and economic factors.

“For example, the price and availability of renewable electricity like solar PV and wind, demand for clean hydrogen by the transport sector, the performance of hydrogen-based fuels and electrolysers, and so on.”

On price, Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL), a Japanese transport company, told PTI in May 2021 that hydrogen pricing should reach current diesel prices by around 2030.

MOL has itself recently conducted studies into green hydrogen as a cargo equipment fuel source at the Kobe International Container Terminal – and is buoyant on cost decreasing by the end of the decade.

Regarding costs, Vriens and Paijmans said the fuel cost will be “difficult to predict”.

“Whether green hydrogen will be economically viable by 2030 depends on a variety of factors: the increasing penetration of wind and solar power and the low-cost electricity from those renewables; the availability of cheaper electrolysers; the introduction of a carbon tax and incentives for low-carbon solutions; boost of hydrogen applications; geography; just to name a few,” they said.

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