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Putting Krk on the map of global hydrogen economy – interview with Bart Biebuyck, CEO and founding member of Green Energy Park Krk

At the beginning of September, the Green Energy Park located on the Croatian island of Krk was introduced by hydrogen experts and industry leaders Bart Biebuyck, Tobias Puklavec, Mindaugas Zakaras and Mario Reinisch.

CEENERGYNEWS spoke with Bart Biebuyck about the potential applications of green ammonia and hydrogen imported on Krk island, the advantages and benefits for the CEE region and the Green Energy Park as just one of the steps in the creation of a European hydrogen economy.

Starting with how the journey evolved, Mr Biebuyck recalls his work at the European Commission, after which he asked himself: how can we make the hydrogen economy a reality?

“The recent World Energy Outlook by the IEA showed once again that today there are only a few examples of final investment decisions (FIDs) taken in this direction, so we need to do something about it because climate change is not waiting for us,” he says, mentioning scale and the costs as the most important aspects for now.

“I have been working on hydrogen valleys, which are publicly funded programmes,” he continues. “Now we need to move more private investments. We have created a lot of demand locally with hydrogen valleys but we need to bring huge quantities of hydrogen, which means we need a midstream facility.”

That’s how the Green Energy Park on Krk Island was born.

“Most people look at North-West Europe and nobody was looking into this area,” points out Mr Biebuyck. “So it was quite the opportunity, also because we need to decarbonise more companies in this part of Europe. It is also a shorter route to Southern Germany and Northern Italy, but also a way to reach and decarbonise the Western Balkans.”

So, the question is: where to get the hydrogen from? The idea behind Green Energy Park is to have similar facilities all over the world, from upstream to downstream. Earlier in October, the company signed a Letter of Intent with the State of Piaui, Brazil, for the production and export of an initial one million tonnes of ammonia from renewable energy sources. Piaui is an emerging leader in the global hydrogen economy, producing cost-effective renewable energy from wind and solar. Green Energy Park has chosen Piaui as the first of a minimum of eight giga-watt upstream facilities to supply its global distribution network with an initial focus on European end markets.

“Krk is the flagship energy park,” explains Bart Biebuyck. “We will import from the US, Texas precisely, for logical reasons, like the presence of the Inflation Reduction Act which will bring down the costs. But we are also looking at Canada, Namibia, Oman, the United Arab States, Saudi Arabia and India. In some locations we will invest, in others, we are simply purchasing .”

The goal is to import one million tonnes of green ammonia in 2027, to reach 4 million tonnes in 2030 and 10 million tonnes in 2035. The first stages will include one big storage tank, followed by others in the coming years, together with new jetties and terminal facilities.

“The location chosen is unique because we have a 16-metre depth and no waves,” says Mr Biebuyck, underlining how important this is as ammonia ships are heavier than other vessels and they need shallow and quiet waters. “We are still at a study phase, but we envision building new pipelines, involving power suppliers, especially renewable ones and partnering with the LNG terminal to decarbonise their operation as well.”

Speaking of the environmental aspect, Mr Biebuyck highlights the added value brought by the project which is envisioned to be integrated into the local landscape, bringing value to the local society.

As regards the potential use of ammonia, the first application that comes to mind is for shipping but also converting it back to hydrogen for industrial processes.

“Cracking technology is becoming more efficient,” says Mr Biebuyck. “Of course, it will be more expensive but the question is: what is going to be cheaper, between producing hydrogen in Brazil, exporting it to Europe and cracking it back to hydrogen or producing it locally? In Brazil, renewables are currently cheaper and solar panels can get 30 per cent more electricity than here in Europe, so at the end of the day it is going to be cheaper to import it even if we have to convert it.”

Regarding other possible challenges as leakage risks and the lack of a proper regulatory framework, Bart Biebuyck mentions that ammonia itself is a product that has been traded quite a lot in the world: the regulation exists and ships exist so it is a big advantage compared to pure hydrogen.

“Leakage also can be dangerous but we have looked at all the accidents that occurred in the past years globally and there are almost no accidents in this area, so the industry knows very well what they are dealing with,” he adds.

Specifically talking about the CEE region, Mr Biebuyck underlines once more the endless advantages.

“We can supply the Balkan region as there is already a very good rail connection in this direction,” he concludes. “Eventually, we will be able to use pipelines as well. Overall, it is great for the region to have a green energy supplier near its countries, which is less expensive than the Northern ones and, as things stand now, I don’t think we will have any energy coming soon from the East. Additionally, the transfer fees are cheaper because it is a shorter distance, so the cost of energy for these counties will go down, which is another major advantage.”

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