A new U.S.-based group, the Transatlantic Clean Hydrogen Trade Coalition (H2TC), has joined the quest, aspiring to get more than three million metric tons of low-carbon hydrogen per year to Europe by 2030.  That’s nearly a third of the 10 million metric tons that the European Union aims to import annually by 2030.

Arlene Karidis, Freelance writer

January 22, 2024

5 Min Read
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Energy groups from Saudi Arabia to Australia are racing to carve pathways to decarbonize the world, and some are putting stock in renewable hydrogen. But figuring out how to safely and economically ship this volatile, flammable element from continent to continent at scale has been a bear. 

A new U.S.-based group, the Transatlantic Clean Hydrogen Trade Coalition (H2TC), has joined the quest, aspiring to get more than three million metric tons of low-carbon hydrogen per year to Europe by 2030.  That’s nearly a third of the 10 million metric tons that the European Union aims to import annually by 2030.

H2TC’s seeds sprouted out of the Netherland-based Port of Rotterdam’s interest in green molecules. Port tenants were trying to understand how international markets for these molecules are developing, with a focused interest in its home base of Europe.

“We started working with the Port of Rotterdam to evaluate the economics of exporting hydrogen and hydrogen derivatives from the U.S. Golf Coast to Europe,” says Nabil Bennouna, principal Climate Aligned Industries, which is a program of nonprofit RMI that focuses on decarbonizing heavy industries.

Bennouna says the plan is to ship product in the form of ammonia, a hydrogen carrier, and to target the Gulf Coast because of existing infrastructure there. The region is home to several plants already making ammonia, mainly for fertilizers and from fossil fuels, which is shipped long distances. Producing green ammonia for hydrogen would be a logical lateral move.

Today three Coalition partners—the Port of Rotterdam, Port of Corpus Christi, and the Center for Houston's Futureare joined by 20 private- sector companies along the emerging hydrogen supply chain. Each gives insight from their industry corners on how to best and most quickly catalyze transatlantic trade.

Industry giants Shell, Linde, LyondellBasell, Ambient Fuels, BAES Infrastructure, and others are among the players.

The first Coalition goal is figuring out how to get the hydrogen molecule shipped across the Atlantic by 2026. 

“Everything we are doing now is focused around that. We compared different [transport methodologies] and found that converting hydrogen to ammonia, then carrying it across the Atlantic is likely to be the most economical alternative,” Bennouna says.

That’s because ammonia is a more energy-dense liquid than pure liquid hydrogen, translating to packing more Gulf Coast-made product onto one ship and moving it across the ocean in a single swoop.

Jacob Susman, founder and CEO of Ambient Fuels, touts the U.S. Gulf Coast as “the world's most attractive market to deliver low-emissions hydrogen.”

"The region has the connective tissue in pipelines and salt dome storage; the low-cost renewables; and the know-how to produce, manage and transport molecules needed to deliver hydrogen to the world. Promoting the export of hydrogen derivatives will enable the broader U.S. hydrogen ecosystem to scale up faster," Susman says.

A Coalition pre-feasibility study showed the product would be competitive with other European commodities, especially with high payout subsidies provided by the Biden Administration’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA); it offers up to a $3 per kg production tax credit for low-carbon hydrogen. At the same time, the thought is that these energy projects could diversify the distribution platforms for U.S. producers while also diversifying the supply chain supporting European industries.

Still, the jury is out on whether ammonia, methanol, or some other molecule is the lowest-cost carrier of hydrogen, says Keith Patch a technical and business consultant in the fuel cell and hydrogen economy. 

“Keep in mind that the total cost of these projects includes all chemical and energy losses on conversion of low-carbon hydrogen to ammonia, the ocean transport of the liquid ammonia, and then conversion back to hydrogen,” he notes.

Patch theorizes that ocean transport of pure gaseous or pure liquid hydrogen (as opposed to converting it to ammonia, then cracking it to recover the hydrogen) might eventually be the lowest total cost.

That hasn’t stopped other actors from putting stock in ammonia as a carrier. French multinational company Air Liquide announced in March, 2023 the start of construction of an industrial-scale plant in Belgium to crack ammonia back to hydrogen.

And Saudi Arabia-based NEOM secured $8.4 billion to build what it calls the largest carbon-free green hydrogen plant in the world, which also will leverage ammonia as a carrier. The company is in the design phase, has long-term offtake agreements in place, and plans to produce “at scale” in 2026. 

At this juncture, the 20-plus companies are teaming to shape the scope of the Coalition’s work and to identify barriers to getting projects off the ground. This early work entails having a hard look collectively at existing bottlenecks.

“We can work in isolation and prove our thesis independently. But I think we are taking a more practical approach. We want [comprehensive] market-driven data and to create a unified voice so we are going in the same direction, ultimately toward climate objectives.

So we are looking for representation along the entire supply chain from renewable developers upstream to end users and midstream companies like pipelines and port logistics to everyone in between,” Bennouna says.

High on the agenda is identifying regulatory hurdles and making recommendations to align U.S. and E.U. trade policies. Also top of list is facilitating standardization in the marketplace and getting offtake agreements signed.

These and other objectives will be addressed under multiple workstream categories from land cost estimates, mapping of infrastructure, to capital markets integration to help investors understand the market.

H2TC marks a meaningful step toward opening the gateway for cross-Atlantic shipments of clean hydrogen, believes Chad Holliday, co-chair of the Mission Possible Partnership (MPP), a group of “climate companies” that teamed with RMI and others to start the Coalition.

Says Holliday, "The capacity to import relatively cheap clean hydrogen from the U.S. to complement local production will have a direct and significant impact on the European industry's efforts to deploy clean production processes at scale.”

About the Author(s)

Arlene Karidis

Freelance writer, Waste360

Arlene Karidis has 30 years’ cumulative experience reporting on health and environmental topics for B2B and consumer publications of a global, national and/or regional reach, including Waste360, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Huffington Post, Baltimore Sun and lifestyle and parenting magazines. In between her assignments, Arlene does yoga, Pilates, takes long walks, and works her body in other ways that won’t bang up her somewhat challenged knees; drinks wine;  hangs with her family and other good friends and on really slow weekends, entertains herself watching her cat get happy on catnip and play with new toys.

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