Locale : North America (English)
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Anchoring hydrogen in the US

“Ports can have a key role in enabling the growth of the hydrogen economy and decarbonizing transportation,” says Faiez Sallie.

Maritime carbon dioxide emissions

It is estimated that the maritime industry contributes around 2.5% of global CO2 emissions. A key concern according to a European Parliament study, which was based on International Maritime Organization data, is that this industry could potentially contribute as much as 17% of global emissions by 2050 if no action is taken.

According to the US EPA , US greenhouse gas emissions amounted to 6,558 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents in 2019. The transportation sector accounted for 29% of these emissions and the maritime industry around 2% of emissions for the transportation sector.

Various stakeholders, including the International Maritime Organization, the UN agency responsible for regulating shipping, have made decarbonizing transportation a priority. The agency has adopted measures aimed at reducing the carbon intensity of existing ships 40% by 2030 based on 2008 levels.

US ports and the hydrogen overview

US coastal ports contribute enormously to the economy. Their total economic value in 2018 was $5.4 trillion, and they supported almost 31 million jobs. In 2019 it was estimated that around 2,363 million metric tons of cargo was handled through around 50 ports.

In 2020, the US H2 economy was estimated to have reached $17.8 billion. By 2050 it expected to be worth up to $750 billion, support around 3.4 million jobs, and provide in the region of 14% of final energy demand, according to the Fuel Cell Hydrogen Energy Association’s Roadmap to a US Hydrogen Economy.

Thus, both US ports and hydrogen will play a key role in the US in the future. The key drivers of this growth are energy and food security, improved medium- to long-term competitiveness, and reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Hydrogen enables the decarbonization of difficult-to-decarbonize sectors, helping to improve sustainability and climate resilience, which ultimately leads to improved social outcomes.

Hydrogen can help the maritime and ports sector achieve reductions in its carbon footprint. It can provide fuel or power for both ports and ships, enabling fuel switching from high-emission diesel to clean-burning H2. This includes trucks, tractors, and container handlers as well as oceangoing vessels, harbor craft, ferries, tugs, and ship-to-shore power systems. In the US, potential demand for maritime H2 could exceed half a million metric tons per year, according to a feasibility study for the Department of Energy.

The role of ports

Ports have a key role to play in developing the hydrogen economy. Many ports around the world — in Belgium, England, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Oman, Spain, and the US (Houston and Long Beach, for example) — are looking at integrating H2 into their future port planning and decarbonization strategies.

Ports can play a pivotal role in these ways:

  • Supporting and enabling roadmaps for industrial, city, state, and national transitions to lower-carbon futures. In so doing, ports will improve their profitability and sustainability

  • Serving as focal points for hubs or clusters and enabling cross-sector (energy, transportation, tourism, and manufacturing industries) integration and synergy

  • Providing logistical services for delivery of hydrogen to regional and global end users and supporting decarbonization of emissions from oceangoing vessels

  • Promoting low-carbon (steam methane reforming and carbon capture) or zero-carbon (green) H2 technologies and integration of these technologies

  • Aggregating demand (port, rail, industry, etc.) to achieve economies of scale

  • Driving down end-user H2 costs by co-locating supply and demand

  • Collaborating with existing industrial clusters that are themselves considering decarbonization

  • Leveraging existing infrastructure

  • Lobbying for special incentives to drive the hydrogen economy

  • Promoting demand for byproducts

  • Sharing knowledge and risk

To enable ports to participate in the hydrogen economy, numerous factors need to be considered. Typical factors include port strategy, port planning, stakeholder management, hub strategy, technology selection and integration, financial viability, alignment with existing regulatory frameworks, commercial and operational challenges, and risk management.

Mott MacDonald has been supplying key services to many projects that have a port and/or transportation element. This includes the NortH2 Project in Europe (an initial 4-gigawatt offshore wind-to-hydrogen project in the Netherlands) , the Tees Valley Hydrogen Hub Project in the UK (creation of a hub to provide hydrogen for transportation), and the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority’s Zero Emission Multiple Unit (ZEMU) project in the US (to develop the first battery- and hydrogen-powered train in North America).

Recent developments and looking forward

In June 2020 the Department of Energy launched its Energy Earthshots Initiative, which included Hydrogen Shot. This program is aimed at promoting coordination, collaboration, and innovation in R&D. Its objective is to reduce the cost of clean hydrogen by 80%, to $1 per kilogram, over the next decade.

In November 2021 the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provided added impetus to the future of the hydrogen economy in the US. A total of $9.5 billion was allocated for the hydrogen economy. This included $8 billion for large-scale green hydrogen hubs or clusters, $1 billion for hydrogen electrolysis research and development, and around $500 million for clean hydrogen manufacturing and recycling. The plan also anticipates the development of the first national roadmap and strategy in the US.

These developments will ultimately support port operators and local governments as they face the challenge of increasing their sustainability and profitability.

Faiez Sallie is Global Practice Leader for Oil and Gas, and New Energies Lead for North America. With nearly 30 years of experience across various industries, he combines a background in chemical engineering with business, commercial, and legal principles to deliver a quality service to clients.

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