A group of 18 companies led by the Port of Rotterdam Authority has launched a study into the feasibility of establishing a large-scale ammonia cracker to enable imports of around 1m tonnes of hydrogen annually for the decarbonisation of industry and mobility.

A large part of the hydrogen for North-West Europe will be imported, including in the form of ammonia, which is easier to ship than hydrogen. Ammonia cracking is the process by which ammonia is decomposed towards hydrogen and nitrogen over a catalyst. Currently, there are commercial processes and catalysts available, but at relatively high energy costs.

In addition to the Port of Rotterdam Authority, the initiative also includes Air Liquide, Aramco, BP, Essent/ E.ON, ExxonMobil, Gasunie, GES, HES international, Koole Terminals, Linde, OCI, RWE, Shell, Sasol, Uniper, Vopak, and VTTI.

The participants have commissioned Fluor, a US engineering and construction firm, to study options for constructing a large central cracking facility in the port area to convert imported ammonia back into hydrogen. The hydrogen can then be used at the port or transported further afield via pipelines to help decarbonise other industrial clusters in North-West Europe.

The study will look into the technical, economical, environmental and safety requirements, with the first results expected in early 2023.

“Europe will need large amounts of hydrogen to reach its climate objectives and a significant share of this can be imported via the port of Rotterdam, said Allard Castelein, CEO of the Port of Rotterdam Authority, adding: “Ammonia is one of the most efficient ways to transport hydrogen and by establishing one central ammonia cracker, we can save time, space and resources to enable the imports of a million tons of hydrogen per year.”

In April this year, Dutch state-owned energy network operator Gasunie, bulk handling firm HES International and tank storage specialist Vopak joined forces to develop an import terminal for green ammonia as a hydrogen carrier in Rotterdam. The terminal, which will operate on the Maasvlakte under the name ACE Terminal, is expected to become operational in 2026.

Gunvor, a Swiss commodity trading giant, signed a joint development agreement in June with US hydrogen producer Air Products to establish a green hydrogen import terminal in Rotterdam port also by 2026. The Gunvor site in Europoort has been earmarked to receive green ammonia, produced from renewable energy sources, for large-scale green hydrogen production, which will be distributed to markets within Europe, including the Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium.

In October, Cepsa and the Port of Rotterdam teamed up to establish the first green hydrogen corridor between southern and northern Europe, ensuring a green hydrogen supply chain between two of Europe’s main ports, Rotterdam and Algeciras.

Cepsa plans to export hydrogen produced at its San Roque Energy Park near the Bay of Algeciras, through carriers such as ammonia or methanol, to the Port of Rotterdam with the trade lane expected to be operational by 2027.