Wim Van Cauteren
Investment and Trade Commissioner, responsible for Mexico
Flanders Investment & Trade
/
Expert Contributor

Exporting Green Hydrogen to Flanders an Opportunity for Mexico?

By Mariana Rodriguez | Thu, 03/31/2022 - 09:00

The region of Flanders in Belgium focuses strongly on renewable energy initiatives. To meet the challenge of the transition to a carbon-neutral society by 2050, Flanders needs to look beyond its own production of renewable energy, generated domestically or offshore. The import of renewable energy from abroad plays an essential role in this respect.

Flanders is home to the largest hydrogen pipeline in the world and is strategically located in Western Europe, with a densely interwoven natural gas and electricity network. The region is, therefore, perfectly poised to become a hydrogen technology leader. Its seaports make it possible for Flanders, as a region, to develop hubs for the import of sustainable hydrogen, as well as for its production. The solid presence of the full hydrogen chain in Flanders – from production to technological development and applications to end-users – is an established fact. What is more, the infrastructural conditions in Flanders which, apart from the seaports, include pipeline infrastructure, industrial clusters and dense transport networks, are extraordinarily conducive to a shift toward a hydrogen economy.

The Belgian Port of Antwerp, Europe’s largest port in terms of size and integrated chemical cluster activities, and the Port of Zeebrugge, Belgium’s most important LNG hub and home of Flanders largest onshore wind power plant, play an important role as energy hubs for Western Europe. They receive, store and dispatch important volumes of energy, to power, heat, chemicalize and transport industrial end-users. The two seaports intend to become part of the Belgian and European climate solution by acting as early mover renewable energy hubs, making use of their extensive pipeline infrastructure, know-how and link to the major industrial clusters network to import and deploy important volumes of hydrogen to the European hinterland.

Both ports are convinced that the future Western European energy system will need to focus on domestic wind and solar energy, as well as imported volumes of renewable hydrogen. They believe that hydrogen carriers will be the adequate form of energy to allow the transition in sectors such as marine shipping, chemistry, fuel and steam production.

Hence, their role as key actors in the Hydrogen Import Coalition that they established, together with following major industrial players: Deme Group, a world leader in marine works, renewable energy provider Engie, energy shipping company Exmar, energy infrastructure group Fluxys, and Flanders’ hydrogen industry cluster WaterstofNet. The goal of the Hydrogen Import Coalition is to conduct research on renewable energy importing via hydrogen carriers. Their study, published in 2021, concluded that shipping and storage of green hydrogen, produced by wind and solar and other renewable sources, is both technically and economically feasible from 2030, to meet the growing demand in Western Europe. Various types of hydrogen-derived carriers from a range of supply regions will be able to provide cost-competitive renewable energy and raw materials by 2030-2035. The most promising green energy carriers are ammonia, methanol and synthetic methane.

This is in line with Flanders' vision on hydrogen. According to this vision, Belgium will have to import 3-6TWh of renewable hydrogen by 2030 and 100-165TWh by 2050. The vision also plans for 100-160km of hydrogen pipelines as an open-access network by 2026 and the connection of the import platform to neighboring countries by 2030.

Other industrial players are acting as well. Global chemical company Ineos, Europe’s largest existing operator of electrolysis, the technology needed to produce hydrogen, has recently announced that it will invest 2 billion (US$2.2 billion) to develop and build green hydrogen capacity at production sites that will be built in Flanders, Norway and Germany.

In the last six months, Flanders has reached out to foreign countries and regions that have ambitions to become significant exporters of green hydrogen to Europe. Therefore, in 2021, the Flemish ports of Antwerp and Zeebrugge signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Ministry of Energy of Chile, in which they commit to working together to make green hydrogen flows between Chile and Western Europe a reality.

The three parties are interested in setting up a corridor to ship green hydrogen produced in Chile and received at the Belgian Ports for further distribution to meet expected demand in Europe. The Green Hydrogen Strategy of Chile aims at producing the cheapest green hydrogen by 2030 and to become one of the world’s Top 3 exporters of green hydrogen by 2040.

In February 2022, Flanders signed a second MoU, this time with the government of Tasmania, the island state of Australia. Tasmania’s target is to be a significant green hydrogen exporter from 2030. This MoU will leverage the development of hydrogen applications, strengthen trade relations and the execution of joint research projects.

Experts believe that Mexico also has the potential to become a strong exporter of green hydrogen in the future. As early as 2030, more than US$300 million of green H2 could be exported overseas. When compared to potential large exporters of green hydrogen to Europe like Chile and Australia, Mexico is positioned as a competitive long-distance exporter, given its low hydrogen production cost and its privileged geographic position with access to the Atlantic Ocean and its northern latitude. The northeastern region of Mexico has the greatest potential for the production, consumption and export of green hydrogen.

Mexico could become a technology manufacturer and exporter to Europe and has many advantages in terms of manufacturing to produce the different technologies or elements that are necessary for the development of the green hydrogen industry. It is estimated that with the renewable energy (solar and wind) that exists in Mexico, there is a capacity to install up to 22 terawatts of electrolysis, producing around 1.4 billion tons of green hydrogen.

Green hydrogen produced in Mexico could be exported to Europe via the excellent overseas transport connections that exist between Mexico and Flanders. The Mexican Atlantic seaports of Veracruz and Altamira are currently connected with the Belgian ports of Antwerp, Zeebrugge and North Sea Port (Ghent) by nine major shipping lines. Mexico and Flanders could, therefore, become strong partners in developing the future trade of green hydrogen.

Mexican companies that wish to know more about the green hydrogen industry in Flanders or are interested in doing business in Flanders are invited to contact the office of Flanders Investment & Trade in Mexico at: mexico@fitagency.be

Photo by:   Wim Van Cauteren