Of all ambitious plans of the Rotterdam port and industrial companies to achieve the climate targets, one stands out: H-vision. This project, conceived by TNO and developed by sixteen parties under the leadership of Deltalinqs, aims to make a substantial contribution to achieving the climate targets by supplying industry with energy using blue hydrogen. This implies CO2 emissions reduction of many megatons.
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“Industry in Rotterdam is on the eve of an enormous transition when it comes to energy and raw materials. That goes for all our 700 members. Large-scale production and use of blue hydrogen will enable Rotterdam's industry to significantly reduce its CO2 emissions before 2030 and, at the same time, strengthen our position as an innovative port cluster," says Alice Krekt, director of Deltalinqs Climate Program.
New infrastructure, converted installations
Within the H-vision project, sixteen parties, including TNO as a knowledge partner, have joined forces to accelerate the realisation of the hydrogen economy. These include large petrochemical and energy companies such as Air Liquide, BP, ENGIE, Gasunie, Nouryon, Shell and Uniper. The Port of Rotterdam is also closely involved. At the beginning of July, they presented the results of a feasibility study which showed that switching to blue hydrogen was both technically and economically feasible. However, the government and companies will need to invest heavily in new infrastructure and the conversion of existing installations. This is more complicated for the coal-fired power stations of ENGIE and Uniper on the Maasvlakte, by the way, than for refineries and chemical and electricity producers. While coal-fired power stations need to completely change their processes, this is less drastic for refineries. Follow-up research is needed to show what the picture will be for each individual company.
Significantly fewer emissions
Hydrogen will play an essential role in the energy transition. A lot of hydrogen is already used in the port area, especially in industrial processes that require high temperatures. Electricity is just inadequate to supply this heat. At the moment, natural gas is still needed for this, and a lot of CO2 is released during combustion. By capturing and storing the CO2 up front during the production of hydrogen, CO2-free blue hydrogen is created. Large-scale production will considerably reduce CO2 emissions. H-vision has calculated three scenarios with an annual CO2 reduction of 2.2 in 2026 to 4.3 megatons in 2031, and in the highest variant to 7 Mton on an annual basis.
Government as a driving force
“Technically and economically there are no obstacles, but we do need to invest in a new infrastructure to both transport hydrogen to the industrial companies and to transport the captured CO2 to empty fields underneath the North Sea. For the transport of CO2, Gasunie is already working with the Port of Rotterdam and EBN, among others, on the Porthos project to realise the CO2 infrastructure. The transport of hydrogen requires the construction of a new pipeline system through the port of Rotterdam, in which the government can play an important role as a driving force," says energy expert René Peters of TNO.
H-vision's plans provide for hydrogen plants on the Maasvlakte that can serve all companies in the port area. This is a rigorous reversal of the current situation in which companies produce CO2-intensive grey hydrogen on their own premises as fuel for their processes. Production of blue hydrogen in which the released CO2 is captured and removed from one central location is much more cost efficient. The investment in the necessary infrastructure to transport the hydrogen to all the affiliated companies is future-proof, because it is already suitable for the next step: green hydrogen. This is produced from sun and wind and is therefore completely sustainable and CO2-free. At the moment, however, there is still far too little green electricity for the production of green hydrogen on an industrial scale.
Investing in a clean port
“In this way, we are working step by step, but at quite a pace, on the necessary decarbonisation of the industry," says Alice Krekt. "With H-vision we are well aligned with major initiatives such as Porthos and the North Sea Energy programme in which TNO plays an important role. This involves making smart connections between offshore wind energy and gas infrastructures. Our companies realise that they need to invest in a clean future and were therefore interested in participating in H-vision from the beginning. Market parties such as BP, Shell and Uniper are now acting as ambassadors for the project. It shows that the industry is keen to push it. ”
Flexible energy system
René Peters: "Switching to blue hydrogen is the most attractive option for a rapid reduction of CO2 in the industry. Uniper and ENGIE have to close their coal-fired power stations on the Maasvlakte in 2030 and are looking for alternatives to maintain manageable electricity production for the market. Converting a coal-fired to a flexible hydrogen power plant that does not run continuously but only when electricity is needed is valuable in the future energy system. While sun and wind dominate, the generation of power is always accompanied by peaks and troughs that the hydrogen plant can absorb.”
Leading the way
Implementing the plans would position Rotterdam as a progressive and sustainable port. The petrochemical installations in the port area are already among the cleanest and most efficient in the world. With blue hydrogen, and eventually green hydrogen, the port will strengthen its international competitive position. "In this way we will also become an attractive location for new businesses that focus on sustainability. Here you can facilitate this with CO2-free hydrogen and green electricity. With a large-scale infrastructure for transporting hydrogen and CO2, we can lead the way," Alice Krekt concludes.