May 23, 2024

(Bloomberg) — Cie Maritime Belge SA, a Belgian shipping company, expects green hydrogen production in Namibia to start in the fourth quarter, a project that could see $3.5 billion in investment over the next five years.

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Belgium’s King Philippe is on Thursday touring what’s expected to be Namibia’s first operating green hydrogen plant. The Antwerp-based shipping company seeking to power its fleet plans to open the first stage of the hydrogen fuel and ammonia project through a joint venture with Namibia’s Ohlthaver & List Group.

The facility will initially produce 400 kilograms (882 pounds) of hydrogen daily powered by a 5 megawatt solar plant near the port town of Walvis Bay. It’s expected to cost $30 million to build.

The project is part of a plan by the southern African desert nation to exploit some of the world’s best solar radiation and tap into Europe’s demand for green fuels. If successful, along with recent oil finds, it could transform the economy of the nation of 2.8 million people that currently relies on tourism, fishing and diamond mining.

“Our customers are asking us to clean up our act to make sure that we don’t emit carbon dioxide anymore. So we need to find an alternative for diesel,” Alexander Saverys, CMB’s chief executive officer, said in an interview at the site, as he explained why the shipping company is venturing into green fuel production. “We wanted to be in a country where there’s an abundance of cheap renewable energy and Namibia is that country.”

The CMB plant, which will be expanded, will be followed by an ammonia terminal at Walvis Bay port. CMB is also planning to construct a 250,000 ton-per-year ammonia plant powered by solar at Arandis in the heart of the Namib desert. That will bring total projects costs to about $3.5 billion.

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When complete the project will allow CMB to venture into refueling large ships that dock in Walvis Bay – which lies on the route around the tip of Africa.

At the site near Walvis Bay solar energy is used to split water to generate hydrogen, which burns without emitting greenhouse gases and can be used to fuel trucks and small ships. At Arandis the hydrogen will be converted into ammonia, which is easier to transport and can be used to power large ships and heavy industry.

CMB, founded in 1895, is controlled by the Saverys family. The Namibia plant will be its first outside Belgium, where it operates a small facility.

Namibia has vast resources including sun and wind that can be used to make hydrogen, Tinne Van der Straeten, Belgium’s energy minister, said in an interview. “But most important, we have a very like-minded vision and a very like-minded hydrogen strategy.”

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