For a glimpse into the future of a hydrogen-fueled world, look no further than natural gas and the technology that rapidly transformed it into a global commodity. Following natural gas’s lead, Japan is preparing to trial imports from Australia of super-chilled liquid hydrogen. German energy utility RWE AG is promoting hydrogen in a planned liquefied natural gas terminal, while Britain’s National Grid Plc is exploring options for the fuel at its LNG port near London. “In the future, many LNG import terminals will almost certainly allow for the import of both LNG and liquid hydrogen,” said Rob Butler, a global projects partner at law firm Baker Botts.

Nations around the world are advocating cleaner energy, and hydrogen gained in popularity as the emissions associated with it are far less than with fossil fuels. The European Union wants to be a hub for the fuel, much as it is for LNG and natural gas, and adopted this month a roadmap for hydrogen that will involve an estimated investment of $500 billion by 2030. LNG Terminals Seek a Future for When Gas Is No Longer Welcome

For the hydrogen economy to work, the existing energy assets will probably have to be used. But the transition isn’t straightforward as the smaller molecules can pass through valves and seals designed for natural gas, and hydrogen is notoriously volatile. While hydrogen and natural gas can mix as a gas but not as a liquid, new storage facilities and tankers would have to be built because retrofitting LNG terminals would be too costly, according to Baker Botts.

Europe is watching trials in Japan, where the world’s first liquefied hydrogen carrier was introduced in December. The ship will have storage capacity of less than 1% of the size of LNG carriers as hydrogen has a lower amount of energy by volume. Hydrogen is also much colder. LNG is chilled to minus 162 degrees Celsius (minus 260 Fahrenheit) for transportation in specialized ships. Liquid hydrogen is minus 253C, meaning it would require tankers with even more sophisticated insulation to keep chilled.