future view

Positioning the Netherlands as Northwest Europe hydrogen hub

11 July 2019 • 4 min reading time

The Netherlands has all it takes to become the hydrogen hub of northwest Europe: our extensive gas infrastructure is perfectly suited for transporting hydrogen, we have a favourable geographic location, offshore wind energy production keeps growing rapidly, industry wants to drastically reduce CO2 emissions, Gasunie and TenneT are working together for the future and TNO is an internationally recognised centre of expertise with Europe’s largest hydrogen research facility in Petten. In short, our country is in an excellent position to become a major player for hydrogen.

Read more about TNO’s work in the field of hydrogen

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That is the firm conviction of top official Noé van Hulst, national hydrogen envoy of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy. "Of the twenty or so globally prominent projects in the field of hydrogen, our country is leading three, including H-vision in the port of Rotterdam area, initiated by TNO. Hydrogen will become a game changer in the energy transition because it will enable us to accelerate the reduction of CO2 in industry alone. And our country can certainly play a pioneering role in this.”

From electrons to molecules

Discussions on the energy transition often centre on extremes. Some people think it will be a completely unaffordable operation, while others think that solar panels, wind farms and electric driving will do the trick. But then one loses sight of the fact that electricity covers 'only' 20% of our energy needs. Approximately 80% of the demand comes from our industry for high temperature processes, heating the built environment, transport by road, rail, water and air. Electricity is not sufficient for this purpose.

"We have been working on green electricity for some time now, but we need predominantly sustainable hydrogen as an alternative to fossil fuels for that eighty percent," says Noé van Hulst. "We need to have green molecules in addition to green electrons. First switch to blue hydrogen, in which you capture CO2, and in the long run more and more green hydrogen, which you produce entirely from the sun and wind. Hydrogen is essential to drastically reduce carbon emissions from industry and transport, and to enable large-scale storage of energy.”

Sustainable gas infrastructure

Hydrogen expert René Peters, also director of Gas Technology at TNO comments that "hydrogen is the answer to the most difficult and main part of the energy transition. Not only is it impossible to sustainably produce enough electricity to meet total demand, but the transport of electrons is many times more expensive than that of molecules. And we already have a great gas infrastructure to transport hydrogen to our heavy industries. Think of the port of Rotterdam, Terneuzen, IJmuiden, Eemshaven and South Limburg. Moreover, hydrogen is not only an energy carrier, it also serves as a raw material for all kinds of products.”

The only sustainable alternative

According to Noé van Hulst, experts generally agree that sustainable hydrogen is almost the only alternative that can be used on an industrial scale. Other CO2-free energy sources are simply not available. And the industry itself is already very active on the sustainability front.

"In Sweden there is a pilot to run a steel plant entirely on sustainable hydrogen. That would be a fantastic technological breakthrough. And TNO has joined forces with Deltalinqs in the port of Rotterdam to accelerate the switch to blue hydrogen. There are plans for the construction of large electrolysers, for example in the Eemshaven, near IJmuiden and Rotterdam. These are all significant steps towards accelerating the energy transition.”

Hitchhiking with industry

According to Van Hulst, port areas will become the nerve centres where hydrogen can be produced CO2-free on a large scale. By definition, with large clusters of companies in these areas, upscaling can be achieved cost-effectively. The only thing that needs to be done is to organise a suitable infrastructure, as provided for in H-vision's plans. "Then industry can be a huge catalyst for the mass production and application of hydrogen. Not only for industrial production processes but also to power trucks and ships to and from the port instead of fossil fuel. Transport will then jump on the industry bandwagon. ”

International collaboration

The Netherlands is working closely with other European countries, including Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, France, Austria and Switzerland in the Pentalateral Energy Forum. There are close contacts with the European Commission and with the Hydrogen Council, established in 2017, in which sixty multinationals are collaborating to accelerate the energy transition through hydrogen applications.

Noé van Hulst: "A global market is emerging for which we must prepare ourselves. The Netherlands is perfectly equipped to operate in the front lines and thereby create new business activity. This requires an integrated European market., which not only helps the business cases of companies but also the opportunity to scale up. There must also be room for experimentation, for stepping off the beaten track, and for stimulating startups. The government can be proactive, for example by means of tenders. We are also looking at public and private funding to get projects off the ground as quickly as possible.”

Role of TNO

Noé van Hulst sees a major role for TNO to enable the Netherlands to grow into the new hydrogen hub in Europe. "TNO, a great deal of knowledge in the field of hydrogen. In addition, TNO oversees the entire energy system. But as far as I'm concerned, we can take an extra step by setting up a distinctive TNO hydrogen centre. As an envoy on behalf of the government, I would like to draw the attention of foreign dialogue partners to the great amount of expertise that can be found here.”

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