22.12.22 “Ammonia is the most sensible option” Interview with Christian Stuckmann, Vice President Business Development Hydrogen at Uniper • Reading time: 4 min.

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Summary

As part of its Green Wilhelmshaven project, Uniper is planning to create a hub for green hydrogen on Germany’s North Sea coast. The fuel will be imported there in the form of ammonia, but it will also be produced on the site. Christian Stuckmann, Vice President Business Development Hydrogen at Uniper, reports on the background and the status of the project.

What is the idea behind Green Wilhelmshaven?

We launched the project two years ago. At the time we were considering what type of infrastructure was the best match for our decarbonization targets and we investigated several different scenarios. Hydrogen is, of course, at the top of the list of carbon-neutral energy sources that we can use in our economy, alongside direct electrification. However, we will not be able to produce nearly enough hydrogen here in Germany, which means that we will need to import the majority in the form of green ammonia. The intention is for Green Wilhelmshaven to make an important contribution in this area.

What is the current status of the project?

At the moment, we are in the concept phase. In 2025, we plan to make our investment decision and, in 2028, we will start importing ammonia. Initially it will be distributed by rail. In the second stage of the project, we will build a cracker that we can use to generate hydrogen.

What role will Green Wilhelmshaven have in Germany’s future energy supply?

The terminal will play a very important part. By 2023, the demand for hydrogen in Germany will have reached 120 terawatt hours and we will have to import around 80 percent of that. Wilhelmshaven will be able to cover approximately ten percent of the import requirements, but it will be possible to increase this to 20 or 30 percent.

Why will the energy be imported in the form of ammonia?

Alongside ammonia, we have looked at a number of transport vectors for importing the energy from abroad, including methanol, liquid hydrogen, and liquid organic hydrogen carriers (LOHC). The question was which option made most sense from a technical and economic perspective. After we had weighed up the costs and the risks involved, ammonia came out on top, because it has the highest energy density and can be synthesized relatively cheaply. In addition, we can use a supply chain that has been in existence for several decades. This means that the technical aspects of the handling and transport processes have been tried and tested, which is not the case with LOHC and liquid hydrogen for example. To liquefy and transport hydrogen, for instance, it needs to be cooled to minus 253 degrees Celsius, which is not currently possible on an industrial scale. The countries where the energy is generated are in a similar situation. There ammonia is the leading technology for exporting fuels based on green hydrogen.

What happens to the ammonia after it is supplied?

It is stored in tanks and some is transported to industrial customers for direct use. Some is reconverted to hydrogen in a cracker and can then be distributed throughout Germany in a hydrogen pipeline system that has yet to be built. This is similar to the method used to distribute natural gas today.

Where does the ammonia for Green Wilhelmshaven come from?

Green hydrogen can be produced highly cost-effectively using renewable energy in the Middle East, Australia, North America, the northern Sahara region, and South America. These countries are, of course, asking themselves how they can best export their sustainable energy. In every case, it is clear that ammonia is the best option. As a result, a number of ammonia projects are underway in Abu Dhabi, Oman, Australia, India, and Chile.

Has Uniper already signed delivery contracts for ammonia?

We have already signed several preliminary agreements, most recently with an exporter in Canada. Negotiations are currently taking place with other potential suppliers.

How much ammonia can you import per year?

We are currently working on the basis of 2.6 million metric tons of ammonia per year. However, in principle we can scale this up as much as necessary, provided that there are quays for the ships, enough space for the tanks and a rail or pipeline connection to allow ammonia and hydrogen to be distributed. As things currently stand, the pipeline connection does not exist. There are plans for the creation of a pan-European hydrogen transport network, but it will take some time before it is implemented. The pipelines are still being used for natural gas and will be in the foreseeable future, which means that we cannot currently supply our potential customers with hydrogen.

So the bottleneck is caused by the pipelines and not by the landing capacity for ships?

Correct. We can put the landing capacity in place quickly and the necessary facilities are largely already available. From there, the ammonia can easily be transported by rail or on inland waterways to customers. But this does not allow us to supply green hydrogen to the places where decarbonization is needed, for example steel works. This is why we are following the new initiatives in the national hydrogen strategy with great interest. A pipeline infrastructure is essential and we must develop it quickly. First of all, we need point-to-point connections that link the large sources of hydrogen, for example Green Wilhelmshaven, with sinks such as the energy-intensive industries in North Rhine-Westphalia.

You are also planning an electrolysis plant in Wilhelmshaven. How much hydrogen are you intending to produce?

In the first stage of the project, we are planning on 400 megawatts of electrolysis capacity, which we can then quickly expand to one gigawatt or more. This corresponds to around 1.3 terawatt hours of hydrogen per year, compared with the twelve terawatt hours of imported ammonia. But we could be looking at a larger or smaller capacity. If you have the space available and the grid connection, you can build as many electrolyzers as you want, provided that there are pipelines in place to transport the hydrogen.

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