Fortescue Future Industries (FFI), the ambitious renewable hydrogen developer owned by billionaire iron-ore magnate Andrew Forrest, has invested €130m ($128m) in a “green gas” and H2 import project in Wilhelmshaven in Germany.

Hydrogen: hype, hope and the hard truths around its role in the energy transition
Will hydrogen be the skeleton key to unlock a carbon-neutral world? Subscribe to Accelerate Hydrogen, powered by Recharge and Upstream, and get the market insight you need for this rapidly evolving global market.

FFI’s deal with Belgian “green gas” developer Tree Energy Solutions (TES), announced today (Wednesday), will see FFI become a shareholder in TES for €30m, as well as investing €100m in TES’s flagship project, the Wilhelmshaven Green Energy Hub on Germany’s northwest coast.

It also envisages the two companies fostering a global green hydrogen supply chain together, importing a total of 300,000 tonnes of green hydrogen to Wilhelmshaven by 2026.

FFI’s most recent import agreement with a German company, a memorandum of understanding signed with E.ON in March, laid out plans to for Forrest’s company to deliver five million tonnes of green hydrogen to E.ON’s customers in Germany and the Netherlands by 2030.

Today, however, FFI’s chief executive Mark Hutchinson said that E.ON could see hydrogen deliveries begin as soon as 2025. FFI has yet to produce any green hydrogen at scale, although it is building a massive 2GW electrolyser factory in Queensland.

Details on the source of the FFI-TES supply are also yet to be agreed. The pair intend to focus on Europe, Australia, Africa and the Middle East; the latter from which TES has already laid the groundwork to import green hydrogen in the form of synthetic “e-methane” (see below).

Forrest has been busy courting the authorities in Egypt, where FFI recently announced plans to build a 9GW green hydrogen megaproject, on the back of high wind speeds and solar irradiation in the Suez area of the country.

Final investment decision on the TES supply chain is scheduled for 2023.

“The United Kingdom and Europe urgently need green solutions to replace fossil fuels and this investment will enable Europe to do exactly that,” said Forrest. “Not in 2050, but in four years from now.”

‘Green gas’

The deal brings FFI on board with TES’s “green gas” import strategy, which it has adapted to Germany’s heightened energy security concerns in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in March.

The centrepiece of TES’s strategy is to ship low-cost green hydrogen produced in Saudi Arabia to Wilhelmshaven as “e-methane”, adding one carbon molecule to four hydrogen molecules via the well-established Sabatier methanisation process, to produce synthetic methane which is chemically identical to fossil methane.

As liquefied methane has been shipped around the world for decades — and used as a shipping fuel — the company would be able to sidestep many of the cost and logistical problems faced by those looking to ship liquefied hydrogen or hydrogen-derived ammonia.

Once delivered, the synthetic methane would be reformed to produce green hydrogen, with the carbon captured and shipped back to Saudi Arabia to be reused in more e-methane production, forming a “closed loop” cycle.

But since Germany began scrambling for fossil gas supplies, the company has adapted its strategy to import liquefied natural gas (LNG) from 2025 — and the company had previously said it wouldn’t begin replacing this with e-methane until 2028.

The German government has given priority permitting status up the permitting process in a bid to expedite construction of the Wilhelmshaven terminal.

It is not clear how FFI and TES intend to import green hydrogen, and whether they will use the closed-loop system favoured by TES, or opt to import as green ammonia or liquefied hydrogen. The latter has widely been dismissed as too expensive to be a serious contender.

TES was unavailable for comment at the time of writing.