“Interest in hydrogen from the logistics sector is on the rise”

25/03/2022 — minutes reading time
2 Partner in de Kijker Air Products Kurt Lefevere2

Hydrogen has an important role to play in sustainable logistics. Air Products – one of the seven Innovation Partners of Log!Ville – has long been a leader in the production and distribution of hydrogen. Kurt Lefevere, Vice President Northern Continent, explains how hydrogen can help to reduce the environmental footprint of supply chains in the future.

“Air Products is active around the world in the production and distribution of industrial gases, including hydrogen,” says Kurt. “We’ve been leading the way for decades in production and distribution, development of technology and equipment and development of hydrogen refuelling stations. We have more than fifty patents to our name in hydrogen-related technologies. Our extensive hydrogen mobility network covers more than 20 countries. We’re scaling up at the moment in all of these areas, because there’s a general expectation that from the second half of this decade onwards, hydrogen will play a pivotal role in mobility and logistics.”

“At the moment,” he explains, “Battery-powered electric vehicles are all the rage. But when you need a high load-carrying capacity, a high operating range and/or fast refuelling, hydrogen fuel cells can be considered as an electricity supply. Their advantage is that they don’t emit greenhouse gases from tank-to-wheel, only water.”

Innovation Partner

As a Log!Ville Innovation Partner, Air Products shares its expertise in hydrogen with the logistics sector. In doing so, the company emphasises the role this zero-emission fuel will play in the decarbonisation of heavy transport and logistics. As a major hydrogen producer, it has the capacity and know-how to create hydrogen using all available production methods and to distribute it in a safe, reliable and cost-effective manner.

Grey, blue and green hydrogen

Hydrogen has been produced for many years, in a wide variety of ways. The most efficient way of producing hydrogen is based on fossil fuels. This hydrogen is primarily used in the chemical and petrochemical industries. Because it is produced with fossil fuels and thus releases CO2, it is referred to as ‘grey’ hydrogen. With ‘blue’ hydrogen, the CO2 is captured and either stored in the ground (CCS) or re-used as a raw material (CCU). In the production of ‘green’ hydrogen through electrolysis, no CO2 is released if the electricity is produced from renewable energy.

“This is the most sustainable method of production,” says Kurt. “The technology has been around for a long time: Air Products has electrolysis plants in various locations. With sustainability in mind, we’ll be stepping up in the production of green hydrogen in the future.”

A two-gigawatt electrolysis facility

In a joint venture with AWCA Power and NEOM, Air Products is building a solar and wind farm in Saudi Arabia with a capacity of up to four gigawatts, as well as a two-gigawatt electrolysis facility. The NEOM Green Hydrogen project will produce 650 tonnes of hydrogen per day. This will result in savings of 3 million tonnes of CO2 per year, which corresponds to the emissions from more than 700,000 cars. By way of comparison, the largest electrolysis facility currently in operation has a capacity of around 100 megawatts.

The mega-plant should be operational within a few years. It is expected that this green hydrogen will primarily be used in heavy road transport and logistics, particularly buses, lorries, ships, trains and heavy handling equipment. Aircraft will follow at a later date.

Pioneering role

“The commercialisation of vehicles and heavy logistics equipment with fuel cells will get underway in the next few years,” says Kurt. “But at the moment, we’re working with organisations and local authorities in Europe to build hydrogen refuelling stations and give demonstrations with hydrogen-powered lorries and other vehicles. We want to invest so we’re ready when demand starts to grow. We’ve made a commitment to gradually replace all of our two thousand lorries with lorries powered by fuel cells.”

Setting priorities

According to Kurt, battery-powered technology will be used wherever possible, while hydrogen will be prioritised for applications where weight, operating range and fast refuelling are critical. In logistics, that mainly means lorries, towing tractors, heavy forklifts, reach stackers, straddle carriers and so on. “It’s clear that interest from the sector is growing,” he says.

Large-scale production

Many logistics warehouses have been turned into power plants, with their roofs covered with solar panels. Could that electricity be used to produce hydrogen locally? “Technologically speaking, that wouldn’t be a problem. But whether it’s economically feasible is another story. The need for green energy is so huge that you’re better off using that electricity directly for battery-powered electric transport and logistics equipment than for small-scale hydrogen production.”