Hamburg's Senate has miscalculated: Germany's largest seaport will not get a floating import terminal for liquefied natural gas (LNG). A first attempt had already failed in the summer, mainly for nautical reasons, when Hamburg had applied for one of the special ships chartered by the federal government, a so-called "Floating Storage and Regasification Unit" (FSRU).
Such ships are now being put into operation in Wilhelmshaven, Brunsbüttel and Lubmin so that Germany can quickly introduce LNG as a replacement for Russian pipeline gas. Hamburg, however, will not be included as an import port for this energy source, which is new in Germany, because the federal government recently rejected the Hanseatic city's proposal for a smaller plant. There is no additional need for it.
For Hamburg, the question now is: What role should the port play in the future energy world? With the start of the Ukraine war and the end of Russian natural gas deliveries, the German seaports quickly moved into a key position in the supply of energy. The import of LNG to Germany will be restarted from scratch for a transitional period of probably ten to 15 years.
LNG import terminals convert the natural gas, which has been cooled to minus 164 degrees and liquefied, back into gas so that it can be fed into the grid. One cubic meter of LNG corresponds to a volume of 600 cubic meters of natural gas. In addition, the ports are becoming even more important as energy hubs: Natural gas and coal are to be replaced in the long term, above all with the import of “green”, regeneratively produced hydrogen and fuels made from it.
Because of its narrow dimensions and the intensive use of the waterways, Hamburg's port is not well suited for large tankers. Instead, the new era of energy supply offers the opportunity to build a long-term alliance on the Lower Elbe – Hamburg has never been able to do this with other German ports when it comes to container handling.
There is currently a cooperation with Brunsbüttel: copper concentrates for the Hamburg company Aurubis are reloaded there onto smaller ships for onward transport to Hamburg. "Close cooperation between the port locations in Brunsbüttel and Hamburg with regard to LNG imports is essential in order to be able to compete internationally," says Frank Schnabel, head of the port operator Brunsbüttel Ports and its owner Schramm Group. "All cooperation partners in Brunsbüttel and Hamburg have long recognized the diverse potential that will also arise from such a valuable cooperation in the future."
The Hamburg port logistics entrepreneur Johann Killinger, owner of the Buss Group, is one of the investors for a stationary LNG terminal at the port of Stade. A floating import terminal is scheduled to start there in 2023 and a land facility by the middle of the decade. In the future, this stationary terminal will also import “green” hydrogen.
"Hamburg is - pipeline distance - only about 40 kilometers away from Stade, Brunsbüttel a little further," says Killinger. "Against this background, I don't think it makes economic sense to supply Hamburg with gas from small LNG ships. However, the use of small LNG bunker ships makes sense for the Port of Hamburg, for ships that bunker LNG as fuel there.”
The Hamburg Port Authority (HPA) is more cautious about possible port cooperation on the Lower Elbe: “The ports are in competition. New providers have to prove themselves,” it says on request. "However, the discontinuation of the Russian pipeline gas will result in new business areas and requirements that cannot be covered by the ports in Belgium and Rotterdam alone."
In principle, the HPA also sees two ways for a closer connection between Hamburg and Stade and Brunsbüttel: "Both pipelines and ship transport would have to be examined." -Baltic Canal. In Stade, on the other hand, basic materials companies such as Dow Chemical or Aluminum Oxid Stade have high energy requirements.
Hamburg's Environment and Energy Senator Jens Kerstan (Greens) campaigned for a floating LNG import terminal in the Hanseatic city, supported by Mayor Peter Tschentscher (SPD). Kerstan wanted to achieve more security of supply for the city's industry, but also for the planned conversion of Hamburg's district heating supply from coal to natural gas.
Against this background, the environmental organization Nabu also favors cooperation between the ports: "Hamburg must cooperate above all with the ports on the Lower Elbe, instead of relying on its own solution and creating overcapacities here," says Malte Siegert, Chairman of Nabu Hamburg . "Quite apart from the fact that a terminal for fossil LNG gas would also hinder the development of a climate-friendly hydrogen economy in Hamburg."
In addition to importing "green" hydrogen by tanker and the products derived from it, methanol and ammonia, Hamburg is also planning its own production. At the site of the decommissioned Moorburg coal-fired power plant, hydrogen is to be produced in large electrolysers, primarily with electricity from north German wind farms, as storable energy.
In the short term, however, the German energy supply must be secured primarily through the import of LNG - a completely new task for the ports involved. “In Germany, the legislation on the loading and unloading of tankers is a matter for the federal states, which is why it cannot be uniform. Where it is possible and sensible, the regulations of the federal states should be harmonized more," says Claus Brandt, Managing Director of the German Maritime Center in Hamburg. "Each port has a unique location and therefore has its own safety requirements, for example the minimum distances to LNG tankers."
From Brandt's point of view, close cooperation between the ports on the Lower Elbe would bring many advantages - both logistical and bureaucratic: "Cooperation between the LNG terminal operators, the shipping companies and the gas importers can make sense in the current situation. If only because the start-ups with the LNG deliveries will also come to Germany via the short-term, so-called spot market.” If, for example, the floating import terminal in Wilhelmshaven is occupied, an LNG tanker could switch to Brunsbüttel or, in the future, to Stade – so that the energy gets into the German grid as quickly as possible.