Photo: BP
future view

Electrification is reducing Port of Rotterdam's carbon emissions

15 May 2019 • 5 min reading time

The industry sector will have to replace the fossil fuels that it is still using on a large scale with sustainably generated electricity and green hydrogen. The Rotterdam-Moerdijk port industry cluster is a major user of energy and is responsible for almost 20% of all CO2 emissions in the Netherlands. Therefore there are significant gains to be made here. The Port of Rotterdam has ambitious sustainability plans, with which TNO is closely involved.

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Making the right choices requires a great deal of research. A few years ago, for example, hydrogen appeared to have only a limited role in the energy transition. Now, however, it is receiving the full attention of the relevant parties. What is the significance of this development, specifically how much CO2 can we save as a result, and how are we going to organize it all? To answer this type of questions, we work together with knowledge partners like TNO on countless projects,” explains Randolf Weterings, the Port of Rotterdam Electrification programme manager.

Three-stage plan

For the Rotterdam-Moerdijk industry cluster, electrification and hydrogen make up the cornerstones of a new system for energy and raw materials. The cluster’s three-stage plan, which covers the years up to 2050, provides for an expansion of the energy infrastructure in which the transmission and storage of CO2, a strengthening of the electricity network, and hydrogen are important aspects. The big question here is how the supply of wind energy from the North Sea is going to evolve and how much green hydrogen can be produced there. This is a determining factor for the speed at which industry is able to electrify.

From grey to green hydrogen, via blue

The Port of Rotterdam is currently more or less the largest producer and user of hydrogen. Right now, this is mostly grey hydrogen, made from natural gas, but within the next decade blue hydrogen is likely to start playing a role too, when CO2 will be captured and stored as part of that process. However, the route to green, completely sustainably produced hydrogen, is still a long one. In the future, it should be an alternative to fossil fuels in production processes and for high-temperature heat in industry. This will make an important contribution to reducing carbon emissions. The industry cluster is aiming to reduce its annual CO2 emissions by 49% by the year 2030, in line with national targets. It is intended that blue hydrogen will become an alternative source of energy in the near future, replacing natural gas.

Strategic questions

“This has all led to all kinds of strategic questions being asked by businesses in this region,” says TNO expert Martijn de Graaff. “It is always a matter of long-term investment decisions. When should you do what? When do you take what risks? Together with other parties, we make knowledge available to help them make the right decisions. We set out timelines for all relevant developments. They provide a tangible point of reference for the future. How is demand for hydrogen evolving, how quickly is the supply of solar and wind energy increasing, what technologies will soon be outdated, and what highly promising ones are appearing on the horizon? To this end, we are working together with various regional parties, such as SmartPort, the Fieldlab Industriële Elektrificatie, and we are linking the region to national and international developments through the VoltaChem programme. In doing so, we are bringing together knowledge development, the formation of chains, and implementation in everyday practice.”

"Many companies are asking themselves the same questions, which we are able to pool together. This means we can also encourage investment on a joint basis."

Infrastructure for electricity, hydrogen and CO2

“There is considerable interest in these initiatives among the businesses in the industry cluster,” says Randolf Weterings. “They bridge the gap between R&D and the actual large-scale introduction of new technologies and processes. The Port of Rotterdam has a facilitating role here. Many companies are asking themselves the same questions, which we are able to pool together, and that means we can also encourage investment on a joint basis. This mainly concerns the future infrastructure for electricity, hydrogen and CO2. TNO is investigating which are the most suitable, from a technical, financial and organizational point of view. Here at the Port of Rotterdam, we look at interests that affect multiple companies. Together, we can achieve our ambitions more quickly.”

Enormous cost reductions thanks to joint infrastructure

There is also increasing interest in the Porthos project for the capture, transmission and re-use of CO2. This initiative – by the Port of Rotterdam, Gasunie and EBN – provides for a basic infrastructure in the extensive port area that businesses can connect with to enable them to transport the CO2 they have captured to empty gas fields under the North Sea. Huge costs reductions can be achieved by doing this collectively and on a large scale..

"By 2050 the infrastructure that we are currently preparing will be fully operational for renewable energy flows.”

Central location for electrolysis

For electricity and hydrogen too, transmission could and should be smarter. Making electrification possible means raising the infrastructure to a higher level. Research has been carried out with network operators Stedin and TenneT into how suitable the electricity infrastructure is for further electrification in the port. The same thing applies to hydrogen. Various companies are carrying out feasibility studies into electrolysers in Rotterdam. One of these is the research being performed by Nouryon, BP and the Port of Rotterdam into an electrolyser of 250 MW for BP's refineries. Organizing electrolysis at a central location, rather than where the individual companies are situated, allows for major savings on the costs of building infrastructure. The Port of Rotterdam is now looking at the options for creating a conversion park for 2 GW of electrolysers. TNO is working with partners on the design of an electrolysis plant that is able to produce much more sustainable hydrogen at a third of present-day costs.

Moving towards 2030 and 2050

“We are not yet at that stage, but we are taking the steps that are needed to continue scaling up. I expect truly significant advances only after the year 2030, as contained in the plan of the regional Rotterdam-Moerdijk industry cluster. By 2050, the infrastructure that we are currently preparing will be fully operational for renewable energy flows,” says Randolf Weterings.

Martijn de Graaff: “In the meantime, more and more companies in the region will be changing over to Power2Heat – that is, green heat from renewable energy – from gas. As 2030 approaches, a great deal will be happening in this area.”

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