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The Port of Hamburg and the dream of the perfect climate balance

Number 2768 is one of the old guard.

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The Port of Hamburg and the dream of the perfect climate balance

Number 2768 is one of the old guard. A diesel engine drives the long-legged vehicle, which is known in technical jargon as a “van carrier” or “straddle carrier”. On this cold winter's day, number 2768 moves containers via HHLA's Tollerort terminal. The vehicle can stack up to four boxes high. The engine consumes more than 30 liters of diesel per hour of operation, also depending on the outside temperature.

In the future, heavy diesel-powered equipment will no longer be available at HHLA's Hamburg port terminals. According to the plan, one day only water vapor will come out of the exhaust of the impostors. The place where the big changeover begins is a small area of ​​the Tollerort terminal marked on the ground, where Georg Böttner is currently standing. The industrial gases manufacturer Linde is building a hydrogen filling station there for HHLA in the coming months. The project marks the beginning of converting a large proportion of HHLA vehicles to run on hydrogen fuel cells, which generate electricity and heat from hydrogen and oxygen. "The first vehicles with fuel cells and the planned hydrogen filling station should go into operation here in the second half of the year," says Böttner, head of the HHLA Hydrogen Network. "It's about, for example, straddle carriers for loaded containers, stackers for empty containers and tractors that move semi-trailers around the terminal, the so-called terminal tractors."

The HHLA initiative is intended to contribute to “balance sheet climate-neutral” port operations in Hamburg. According to the draft of the new port development plan, Germany's largest seaport should achieve this goal by 2040. "Climate-neutral on the balance sheet" means that the remaining greenhouse gas emissions must either be collected and disposed of underground - or that the port companies finance compensation for the binding of carbon dioxide, for example through reforestation projects. Above all, however, the Senate and the port industry want to replace fossil fuels with renewable energies: for example with shore power systems not only for cruise ships but also for container freighters, green electricity for container bridges, electric heavy-duty vehicles that draw their power from the socket or from fuel cells.

The share of rail freight in the connection to the Port of Hamburg is also set to increase from more than 50 percent at present to up to 70 percent. "If we succeed in using new technologies to increase efficiency and even achieve CO2 neutrality, the Port of Hamburg will make an important contribution to climate protection in the long term," says Economics Senator Melanie Leonhard (SPD).

For the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce, the port is an innovation center for a climate-neutral city as a whole. The Chamber believes that the enormous dividend of around 1.5 billion euros that Hamburg will receive this year from its stake in the Hapag-Lloyd shipping company must also be used to modernize the port, for example in emission-free drives and in the promotion of “green “, regeneratively produced hydrogen. "Hamburg needs the 'innovation triple jump'. This includes a future billion from the city's private sector income," demands Chamber of Commerce President Norbert Aust. "The Hapag-Lloyd dividend is a huge opportunity for the future of Hamburg as a location for business and innovation." In addition to the money, the Chamber describes the "triple jump of innovation" as more targeted support for innovations and better framework conditions in "special innovation zones", as they also do could arise in the port.

However, neither the Senate nor the Port of Hamburg Business Association (UVHH) knows how many greenhouse gases are caused by port operations today. Only the companies themselves have figures on this. HHLA, for example, in which the City of Hamburg owns 69 percent of the shares, accounts for group-wide emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) of 124,000 tons for 2021, which will fall significantly. A significant part of this relates to operations in Hamburg with the three container terminals of HHLA and the multi-purpose terminal O'Swaldkai. There are also port facilities abroad and Metrans, the rail freight company that operates throughout Europe.

The Hamburg Port Authority (HPA), on the other hand, calculates around 14,400 tons of CO2 emissions per year for its own operations – for example with construction ships and pilot boats. For comparison: According to the current figures, Hamburg as a whole emitted around 13.5 million tons of CO2 in 2020. "More efficient traffic flows are a key factor in achieving the goal of 'climate-neutral' port operations. We have been working on this at the HPA for years, with modern digital traffic control systems on the roads, on the water and above all on the port railway," says HPA boss Jens Meier. "And we support the transition to electric mobility for port vehicles."

The port companies are trying to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases - also in order to at least partially reduce the sharp rise in energy costs. "Our members currently save more than 71.5 million kilowatt hours of energy per year through operational energy efficiency measures or generate it from renewable sources and/or with low-emission technologies," says Norman Zurke, Managing Director of the UVHH, who currently represents around 100 member companies. "Through these measures, more than 98,000 tons of carbon dioxide are avoided every year." In addition to more efficient drives, there is also the expansion of renewable energies, such as solar systems on the roofs of port companies.

However, there is still a lot to be done to get closer to “climate-neutral” port operations. At HHLA alone, there are still around 250 vehicles with diesel engines in the Hamburg terminals – purely diesel-powered straddle carriers such as number 2768, and also many vehicles with diesel-electric hybrid drives. "A diesel-electric straddle carrier uses around 30 percent less diesel than a device with a pure diesel drive," says auf dem Tollerort Janne Oeverdiek, who works for HHLA in the Clean Port

HHLA has come the furthest with electrification at its most modern terminal in Altenwerder. There are no long-legged straddle carriers driving there, but fully automatic trucks, so-called Automated Guided Vehicles – AGV. "The AGVs are now almost completely battery-powered," says Oeverdiek. "These vehicles and HHLA's gantry cranes are already completely supplied with green electricity." The AGVs in Altenwerder also drive automatically to their station in the terminal when the battery needs to be charged. In 2019, TÜV Nord certified Altenwerder as the first international “balance sheet climate-neutral” container terminal ever.

In Altenwerder, operations have long been converted to electromobility. But that is still to come at Tollerort and also at Hamburg's largest container terminal, Burchardkai - and it will change the processes there. At Tollerort alone, around 70 straddle carriers are still running with pure diesel drive or diesel-electric. "A diesel-powered straddle carrier like this one is refueled every two to three days," says Georg Böttner at the service station for the forklift vehicles. “An electric vehicle with a hydrogen fuel cell will probably have to be refueled every one to one and a half shifts. So we need a lot more refueling processes, and it will be a different way of refueling.” With diesel vehicles, the tank truck comes with the straddle carrier. When refueling with hydrogen, on the other hand, the lifting vehicle has to drive to the filling station for technical reasons, which takes longer.

In order to remain competitive with other ports in the region, HHLA must move at least the same number of containers with the same number of lifting vehicles as before. However, electric vehicles have a shorter range than diesel-powered vehicles. "Some private electric vehicles may have a range of 450 kilometers in the summer, but only 250 kilometers in the winter because the interior heating is then also required," says Böttner. "In the case of electrically powered port handling equipment, we still have to gain experience as to the extent to which such effects occur and how long a tank filling with hydrogen actually lasts in summer and in winter under a wide variety of operating conditions." Testing fuel cells from the summer.

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