The first terminals for LNG are ready to go in Wilhelmshaven, Brunsbüttel, Stade and Lubmin. What was previously blocked was created in record time. The projects are backed by builders who have often been promoting their ideas for years.
What nobody thought possible is happening: in Germany of all places, the country where it often takes years before airports, train stations, pipelines and factories can be built because of all the rules and building regulations, the largest infrastructure project the country has seen in since a long time ago, finished within six months: terminals for the supply of liquid gas.
In Wilhelmshaven they are already ready to go, around the corner in Brunsbüttel in Schleswig-Holstein and in Stade the first liquid gas tankers will soon be able to dock, and in Lubmin in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania work is well advanced.
A handful of engineers, port logisticians, mayors and municipal officials who have been putting in extra shifts for weeks and showing what is possible when it matters most are responsible for ensuring that things are moving forward. Frank Schnabel is one of them.
If he had been heard, Schnabel would have become the man who would have made Germany less dependent on Russia’s fossil fuels early on. The slender man with a parting on the side and inconspicuous glasses is more of a gray eminence type than a sore thumb.
The graduate business economist is boss in the almost cute Brunsbüttel Elbehafen and managing director of the Schramm Group, a medium-sized port logistics company. His passion is liquid gas, in technical jargon LNG – Liquefied Natural Gas.
The technology that allows natural gas to shrink to a six hundredth of its volume by cooling it to minus 160 degrees, making it economically transportable. In Brunsbüttel, just like in Wilhelmshafen and Lubmin, it should be made to run.
Schnabel campaigned for it for ten years, everyone nodded, but nothing happened. Now, in his eleventh year, they’ve sacked him. All of a sudden, what would have taken years before – approvals, applications, stamps, decisions – is now done in days.
There are several dozen such permits, archaeological reports are also part of it, and at the end of the day there is also a three-kilometer pipeline that has to be built, with which the valuable freight can be fed into the national network.
The first liquefied gas will arrive in Brunsbüttel by the end of this year and will be fed into the grid in gaseous form. “I struggle with the fact that the war is the trigger for implementing a good idea,” says Schnabel, from whose office the Elbe is just as visible in all its width as the entrance to the Kiel Canal.
It was Norwegian shipowners who asked him in 2011 whether Brunsbüttel might not be able to build an LNG filling station for their ships. Schnabel got smart and recognized the possible uses of this form of energy. Trucks could be refueled, like tens of thousands in China and the USA. They would be cleaner and quieter.
The chemical industry needed it, for example the Yara fertilizer plant is right next door in the largest industrial area in Schleswig-Holstein. And last but not least: the German gas network could be supplied, which until now has only depended on pipelines and thus on the powers that be at the other end of the line. Above all in Russia. Schnabel built presentations and promoted his idea. Everyone nodded, and nothing happened.
Especially after Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, he thought that Germany now needed an alternative to gas supply via Nord Stream from Russia, reports the port boss. And indeed, Schnabel found a strategic partner: the Dutch company Gasunie was looking for a good location for an import terminal.
Together they drove to Sigmar Gabriel, then SPD Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy. He thought the project was “a great idea”. However, there was no money or other support. There is enough gas via the pipeline from Russia, Schnabel heard from the ministry. This was also the prevailing opinion among Gabriel’s CDU successor, Peter Altmeier.
Then what Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz called the “turning point” happened. With Russia’s attack on Ukraine, energy prices shot up, and gas prices in particular had no upper limit for a long time.
The fertilizer factory not far from the port got into trouble because they need gas for fertilizer and that was priceless. The Economics Ministry, which was now headed by Robert Habeck from the Greens, remembered that enthusiastic liquid gas fan from Brunsbüttel. And in the Chancellery, Scholz declared the construction of LNG terminals a top priority.
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Since then, the small industrial and lock town on the southern tip of Dithmarschen has been on everyone’s lips. Together with Wilhelmshafen and Lubmin, Germany’s energy future is to be created here. At full throttle, so to speak.
Brunsbüttel, whose nuclear reactor used to stand for yesterday’s energy that nobody wanted anymore, is suddenly experiencing a spirit of optimism. Cows are still grazing where gas tanks are to be built. But the crucial thing is: It is not a cow meadow, but an industrial area from which they live.
Six floating liquid gas terminals are currently under construction in Germany. The Federal Government has hired special ships for five of these plants.
They can convert liquid gas from tankers into gaseous form and feed it into pipelines. It takes three to four years to build a permanent terminal, which is too long given the lack of supply through the pipelines from Russia.
A total of 25 billion cubic meters of gas are to be brought into the country via the floating terminals, which corresponds to more than a quarter of Germany’s requirements.
The special ships cost between 100,000 and 200,000 euros – per day. There are around 50 such ships worldwide. The federal government is providing around three billion euros for LNG infrastructure.
The first German LNG terminal is about to go online at the only German deep-sea port in Wilhelmshaven. The operator is the now nationalized Düsseldorf energy group Uniper. The terminal has a capacity of up to 7.5 billion cubic meters. The system can later be converted to hydrogen.
Another LNG terminal should be operational in autumn 2023. It is being built by Tree Energy Solution (TES), which is already planning a hydrogen factory in Wilhelmshaven and a stationary import terminal for the gas for 2025.
The operator of the terminal will be the French energy company Engie, another partner is the Essen energy company Eon. Five billion cubic meters of gas can be delivered annually via the terminal.
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A little further up the Elbe, Hanseatic Energy Hub has been building an LNG terminal in Stade-Bützfleth, Lower Saxony, since the end of September. The floating facility is scheduled to start at the end of 2023.
At the same time, a stationary terminal is being built, which will be ready for use in 2026 and can also be used for hydrogen. Three to five billion cubic meters of gas can initially be delivered here annually.
The Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines end in the north-east of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, so Lubmin is optimally connected to the German gas network. Two LNG terminals are currently planned there. Deutsche Regas in Lubmin with its purely privately financed project will start in December.
“I experience a positive example of what is possible if you only want it politically,” says Schnabel. For him, what is happening in front of his office window is “the blueprint for the energy transition”.
Just last year – in July 2021 – he could see a different picture in the Brunsbüttler industrial area. At that time, 2,000 demonstrators from all over the country had traveled to protest against the planned terminal for liquefied natural gas, whose construction was still a long way off.
They pitched tents, chanted: “Clean gas is a dirty lie” and: “End of terrain”. “Gas is a fire accelerator of the climate crisis, because in addition to CO2, the even more harmful methane is released.
Anyone who is still building a fracking gas terminal has completely lost their moral compass,” exclaimed one speaker. The police had gathered several hundred emergency services in the village at the mouth of the Elbe.
“The resistance has almost come to a complete standstill,” Schnabel states today. Brunsbüttel is a small town, “but we make global economic policy.”
If Schnabel crosses the finish line, the first liquid gas tankers will also dock in Brunsbüttel in December. And on the site around it, construction work will then begin for an LNG terminal, the two storage tanks of which will each hold 165,000 cubic meters of liquid gas and can later be converted to hydrogen.
And oh yes: Eleven years ago, the Norwegians asked for a 500 cubic meter tank for their ships. The project has grown significantly.
The article “Port boss reveals the German LNG arbitrariness” comes from WirtschaftsKurier.