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How ports can be transformed into energy hubs of the future

Today’s economic and societal landscape seems to be increasingly characterized by a lack of trust and a tendency towards risk-aversion

By: EBR - Posted: Tuesday, May 3, 2022

"To create fundamental societal change to mitigate the climate crisis, we need cross-sector collaboration and collective commitment. But lack of trust in modern society is increasingly hindering this type of approach".
"To create fundamental societal change to mitigate the climate crisis, we need cross-sector collaboration and collective commitment. But lack of trust in modern society is increasingly hindering this type of approach".

by Jacques Vandermeiren*

Today’s economic and societal landscape seems to be increasingly characterized by a lack of trust and a tendency towards risk-aversion. Nevertheless, the reality of current challenges worldwide requires a robust approach with serious, collective commitment. We need governments, industries and populations to share the faith that we can and we will turn things around. Despite the fact that fossil energy provided an important economic added value to society over the past century, their combustion also resulted in a major disruption of our atmosphere’s natural CO2 balance.

The Paris climate goals clearly emphasise the urgent need to halt disruptive evolutions and to make the shift towards a carbon-neutral society. Through the development of Port of Antwerp-Bruges future course, I learned that restoring trust is the first step to inspire others to seize the opportunity, to aim higher and to do better. The marine and industrial activities that at first sight only seem to add to the issue, are the exact same reasons why ports can be part of the solution.

We have to act now, and we have to do it together. Will this be a walk in the park? Definitely not. Drawing lessons from each other’s achievements and failings will propel successful change.

Co-creating climate action

We need courageous doers to act now for a better future: what will the world look like in 2050? How should we transform our energy supply system in order to reconcile economy, humans and climate? The ability to create genuine change drives more and more world ports to ambitious transition projects. To this day, the fuels used for transport and the production of chemicals largely derive from the import of fossil fuels like crude oil, natural gas and electricity.

In order to evolve towards a climate-neutral economy, our energy supply will have to shift to the primary use of sustainable sources. However, this transition is not a matter of renewables only: an integrated approach for the industry, shipping and logistics requires innovative solutions to heating, transport and feedstock challenges as well. At the Port of Antwerp-Bruges renewables are produced on a large scale and alternative sources such as hydrogen are imported and converted into sustainable chemical building blocks. Combined with valuable local expertise and an extensive pipeline network at our disposal, we believe it is our duty to be at the forefront of this evolution towards carbon neutrality by the middle of this century.

Ports as hydrogen hubs

There is a great necessity for a solid and flexible energy system that complements local production of green energy with the import of renewable molecules. Hydrogen offers the answer, by allowing long-distance transport of large volumes exactly where and when consumers need it. Hydrogen would allow energy distribution across sectors and regions and it could serve as renewable feedstock, improve system resilience and help to decarbonize transportation, industrial energy use and building heat or power. Green hydrogen molecules will play a decisive role in achieving the European Green Deal and will have a high potential to become the complementary energy vector.

The North-West of Europe accounts for 5% of the global demand for hydrogen, most of which is concentrated in harbour areas. Our region has great potential to develop a solid hydrogen market with both internal and external trades. Hydrogen needs to be decarbonised. In order to do so, we need the full capacity of our worldwide renewable energy production. Developing countries could respond to this need in a smart way, by exporting the wind and sun energy they possess in abundance.

Cross-value chain collaboration

In Belgium, import will be fundamental to building a true hydrogen economy, as the production of green hydrogen requires a large surface and a considerable volume of renewable energy. One major asset of Belgium’s companies is that they are active in all parts of the hydrogen value chain. With its favourable location, well-developed pipeline network connecting neighbouring states, terminal infrastructures, industrial clusters and a strong customer base, our country is able to take up an important pioneering role to supply Western Europe and to position ourselves as a hydrogen import and transit hub.

Hydrogen connects different parties and stimulates cross-value chain collaboration – as the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that was recently signed by Port of Antwerp-Bruges, Port of Zeebrugge and the Chilean Ministry of Energy shows. This cooperation is a major step forward, since it has the power to eliminate the last barriers and gaps in the run-up to the effective startup of green production the setup of the logistics chain between the two continents and the logistics in the Belgian seaports.

The green way forward

If we want to restore our climate while growing our economies, we have to fully commit to innovative solutions. Earlier this year, the PIONEERS consortium announced the ambitious goal to take the lead in greening our European ports The programme unites 46 partners to work together and to reconcile economy, people and climate. As lighthouse port, Port of Antwerp-Bruges is honoured to host inter alia leading ports, terminal operators, knowledge institutes and public entities to rethink all aspects of port operations.

The insights we gathered based on various coalitions, innovative projects and policy-making occasions such as our membership of Hydrogen Europe and our co-chair of the Clean Hydrogen Alliance, demonstrate that the most promising way forward is characterised by united forces of ambitious partners in the field of energy, industry and shipping.

European Ports such as Rotterdam, North Sea Port, Hamburg and Valencia share our strong belief in a hydrogen economy, endorsed by the high targets put forward in the European hydrogen strategy. Nearly every week, we take notice of new European investments in hydrogen plants not seldom in the vicinity of refineries or chemical clusters. Port of Antwerp-Bruges fully grasps the opportunity to strengthen this collaborative spirit and enable new initiatives, with the aim to transform not only our own economic fabric but raise the bar on a global level.

*CEO, Port of Antwerp
**first published in: www.weforum.org

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