Duisburg, a city steeped in industrial history and once known for coal, is now emerging as a key player in the new industrial revolution – one driven not by fossil fuels but by green hydrogen. Alexander Klomparend, head of corporate communications at Duisburg Kontor, is unequivocal in his belief: “Hydrogen is the new coal.” The city’s unique attributes make it a potent candidate to lead this revolution.
Duisburg’s association with heavy industry and coal stretches back to the heart of the old industrial revolution. Now, it stands at the forefront of a green transformation, marked by hydrogen’s ascendancy over coal and gas.
Duisburg is poised to become North Rhine-Westphalia’s hydrogen capital and possibly more. Its strategic location at the confluence of the Rhine and Ruhr rivers, coupled with hosting the world’s largest inland port, provides an ideal backdrop for a hydrogen-based transformation. This transition is pivotal in achieving climate neutrality for Germany, given that Duisburg’s steelworks are responsible for a significant portion of the country’s CO2 emissions.
Duisburg’s journey towards a climate-neutral future revolves around its central port. It is here that the climate-neutral Gateway Terminal is taking shape. An investment of 125 million euros is being channelled into its development. The terminal is set to house a hydrogen-powered power plant and a hydrogen production facility. Mayor Sören Link believes that “hydrogen will be the key to the green transformation in Duisburg and on the Rhine and Ruhr.” His optimism drives the expectation that Duisburg can pull off this remarkable feat.
The HydrOxy Hub Walsum, situated at the former Walsum mine site, is a testament to Duisburg’s commitment to hydrogen. It’s scheduled to house a hydrogen production plant powered by electrolysis starting in 2025. This process, familiar from the ‘oxyhydrogen test’ in schools, splits water into oxygen and hydrogen using electricity. The facility is projected to have an output of 150 megawatts initially, with future expansion planned to reach 520 megawatts. Green electricity for electrolysis will be supplied via a dedicated substation constructed by Amprion. Additionally, 15,000 square meters of solar cells on the facility’s roof will contribute to the energy required. The cost of hydrogen production in Walsum is yet to be determined but is expected to align with prevailing market rates.
Tanja Braun, project manager of the HydrOxy Hub Walsum, is confident about the demand for green hydrogen. She emphasizes that Germany needs to learn from past mistakes and reduce its dependence on imported gas and coal. A careful and well-subsidized transition is key to establishing a robust domestic hydrogen industry.
Hydrogen’s importance isn’t limited to Duisburg; the entire Ruhr area anticipates a green industrial transformation. The Hy.Region.Rhein.Ruhr association, led by Michael Hübner, is spearheading a collaborative effort involving major companies like Thyssenkrupp, the Port of Duisburg, Siemens Energy, and the Port of Rotterdam. These enterprises are working together to turn the Ruhr area into a hydrogen powerhouse, poised to drive the transformation of the steel and heavy industries toward cleaner and greener practices.
However, not everyone shares the same optimism about green hydrogen. Manuel Frondel, head of the “Environment and Resources” at the RWI – Leibniz Institute for Economic Research, argues that Germany’s high production costs make hydrogen an expensive solution. He suggests focusing on pipeline infrastructure, indicating that green hydrogen will predominantly be imported from abroad in the future.