STORY Power Generation

Hydrogen-based energy for the port logistics of the future

Posted on April 14, 2022 by Peter Thomas, Images by Duisport, Rolls-Royce Power Systems

Duisburg port is set to become the first inland container terminal in Europe to achieve climate neutrality – thanks to mtu hydrogen-based power solutions.
Duisburg, Germany
Duisburg - a city in western Germany - not only has the largest inland container terminal in Europe. A new beacon project for distributed, climate-neutral power generation is also being built here. The precise location – 'the coal islands' – is interesting, since these served as a trans-shipment site for coal all the way up to 2020. Its heaps of coal, the raw material for fossil power, were visible from all around. But these are being replaced by fuel cells and cogeneration modules powered by hydrogen to produce green electricity and heat. A better symbol for the energy turnaround would be difficult to find.  

From 2023, the Duisburg Gateway Terminal (DGT) will go into service as Europe's largest tri-modal (road, rail and water) inland container terminal. Powering the terminal carbon-neutrally is the goal of Enerport II, the research project being funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action until 2025.   Port operator Duisport has forged partnerships not only with Rolls-Royce Power Systems, but with the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety and Energy Technology (UMSICHT) and energy providers in the region.  

On-site, carbon-neutral power generation  

In the future, most of the electrical energy required to power the port's operations will be generated on demand on site using hydrogen. The power installation will comprise two cogeneration plants based on mtu Series 4000 hydrogen engines (2 MW total installed capacity) and three mtu fuel cell systems (1.5 MW total installed capacity).   “The power plant we're supplying is able to cover both base and peak loads,” explained Armin Fürderer, head of sustainable customer solutions at Rolls-Royce Power Systems.  

Rolls-Royce's Power Systems business unit is supplying its latest mtu hydrogen technology for this purpose, in order to supply the future terminal with electrical energy and heat in a sustainable manner: mtu fuel cell solutions for electrical peak load coverage as well as mtu hydrogen heat and power generation station.

As electrical engineer Fürderer goes on to explain, each technology in the mix will play a specific role: Proton-exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFC), whose use in such projects has been the focus of intensive research by Rolls-Royce over the last three years, can respond flexibly to fluctuations in the power demand. “Their dynamic response capabilities make fuel cells the optimal solution for covering load peaks,” elaborated Fürderer.  

Fuel cell systems and hydrogen-powered cogeneration modules soon ready to market  

Rolls-Royce Power Systems has been working for some three years on the deployment of hydrogen-based technologies in its power solution concepts. In late 2021, it unveiled its new megawatt-scale fuel-cell system at the UN COP26 climate conference in Glasgow.  Duisburg port's combined heat and power plants are based on mtu Series 4000 hydrogen engines and shall be primarily used for continuous power. The heat generated by the fuel combustion process shall be harnessed and used for local heating in the Duisburg region – a   very efficient form of sector coupling favored by the proximity of Duisburg port to Duisburg city. Combined heat and power modules have been a core expertise of Rolls-Royce Power Systems for many years now.

“We've been developing and delivering natural gas-powered cogeneration plants for decades,” explained   Armin Fürderer. Just like the fossil fuel natural gas, the hydrogen is combusted by spark ignition to convert it into mechanical and thermal energy. “Obviously, technical changes are needed to the engines, and particularly to the combustion process,” explained Fürderer, head of hydrogen-based power solutions at Rolls-Royce Power Systems.   Besides hydrogen, it will soon be possible to use HVO (hydro-treated vegetable oil) as an eco-friendly fuel in co-generation plants.

Hydrogen as an energy solution for inland ports: A microgrid based on renewable energies with hydrogen-powered fuel cells for emergency and peak power as well as hydrogen combustion engines (here a principle illustration) will meet the special energy requirements of port facilities.

Hydrogen key to CO2-free container logistics  

The list of applications in the Duisburg terminal to be powered by electricity generated with hydrogen is long, and ranges from the feeding of vessels with shore power to the unloading, storage and handling of containers. To keep these processes as lean as possible, the port has opted to dispense with conventional vehicles for moving containers within the terminal. Instead, electrical bridge systems will be used to unload the standardized metal containers and place them into storage or onto freight trains and trucks.  What makes this project really exciting for Rolls-Royce Power Systems is the fact that the power plant can grow along with the port. Should Duisport be expanded, the mtu energy systems can be expanded alongside it, and with a swiftness that would not be possible with standard main grid connections.  The infrastructures for supplying the terminal with hydrogen are expandable too:   Initially the fuel will be delivered in cylinders by road, with the addition of rail tank cars and ship tankers at a later stage. Duisport's mid-term plan, however, is to use solely 'green hydrogen' that it receives by pipeline. Ideally, this will have been produced in the region using electrolysis, with the integration of renewable energies such as wind and solar. And Duisport wants to do even more than just use eco-friendly hydrogen. Ultimately, its goal is to become a distribution hub for hydrogen as a future energy source.  

Beacon project for ports around the globe

For Rolls-Royce Power Systems, the Duisburg project is an example for other ports, and not just inland ports, to follow: “The integrated applications set up in the port of Duisburg can be implemented just as well in maritime container ports and cruise ship terminals,” explained Fürderer. The demand, he insisted, is there. But while many ports are interested in increasing their capabilities, the capacity of the electrical power grid is not that easy to scale up.  

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