Outside the window of the company building, a yellow pipeline runs down a scaffolding in two right angles and then disappears into a field. "This line will soon make a significant contribution to securing Germany's energy supply," said Joschka Knuth (Greens), State Secretary in the Schleswig-Holstein Ministry for Energy Transition, Climate Protection, Environment and Nature, at a specialist conference in the Brunsbüttel Ports building on Monday.
The first natural gas from the Brunsbüttel Elbe port will soon be fed into the Schleswig-Holstein distribution network through the new, three-kilometre-long connecting line. In this way, the Hamburg natural gas market will also be indirectly relieved.
Three floating import terminals for refrigerated, liquefied natural gas (LNG) are scheduled to go into operation around the turn of the year. They are converted LNG tankers, so-called FSRU (Floating Storage and Regasification Units), which expand the liquefied natural gas, which has been cooled to minus 163 degrees, back into a gaseous state and then forward it to the land network. In such an installation, there are two tankers for gas imports - one that brings the LNG and one for regasification.
So far, Germany has not used LNG because it was sufficiently supplied with Russian pipeline gas. After the start of the Ukraine war, however, Russia stopped its deliveries this year, including through the Nord Stream 1 Baltic Sea pipeline. Now Germany's seaports are suddenly becoming even more important for energy supply.
Wilhelmshaven recently announced that its pier for a floating LNG import station was ready. According to the Federal Ministry of Economics, the first LNG from a tanker is to be fed in there on December 21st.
However, Brunsbüttel is also ready, having taken a different approach to preparation. The Elbehafen did not build a new pier for a floating LNG import terminal, but converted an existing pier. Oil and propane are usually landed there. A new LNG feeder is also being built – but Brunsbüttel can already take over chilled, liquefied natural gas.
"We are still working on many details, but we already have a finished berth for an FSRU," said Frank Schnabel, head of Brunsbüttel Ports and its parent company Schramm Group, the WELT. He assumes that immediately after the arrival of the floating import terminal in Brunsbüttel, the first LNG tanker will also moor next to it.
The energy company RWE, which is responsible for LNG imports via Brunsbüttel, has not yet given any dates for the arrival of the FSRU and the first delivery with a tanker. According to the current status, the historically first LNG delivery to Germany could still take place in December via both Wilhelmshaven and Brunsbüttel. Further floating LNGs import terminals are to be located in Stade and Lubmin in the future. In Lubmin, a purely private-sector project that is not co-financed by the state is about to be completed.
After an initial setback this summer, Hamburg in turn wants to continue trying to get its own floating LNG import terminal, albeit a much smaller ship than initially planned. Fixed LNG import terminals are also planned for the coming years in Wilhelmshaven, Stade and Brunsbüttel. All of these plants are intended to largely replace Russian natural gas imports.
Frank Schnabel is regarded as a pioneer of the LNG idea in northern Germany. Eleven years ago, he first proposed the construction of an LNG bunker station and later a permanent import terminal in Brunsbüttel in order to put Germany's natural gas supply on a broader footing.
Because of the massive imports from Russia at the time - more than half of Germany's annual requirement of around 100 billion cubic meters of natural gas used to come from there - Schnabel was not heard from politicians. Shortly before the Ukraine war at the end of 2021, it was still unclear whether a permanent LNG import terminal could be built in Brunsbüttel.
Schnabel is promoting intensive cooperation between the Lower Elbe ports in the future energy supply with LNG, but also with "green" hydrogen and its derivatives. And he is pushing for a significantly better rail connection to the port of Brunsbüttel and for upgrading the energy infrastructure in the other German seaports.
"In the coming years we will need everything we can get in terms of LNG and later green hydrogen," said Schnabel WELT. "Therefore, the ports must also be upgraded quickly and comprehensively in order to ensure future security of supply."