future view

Van Oord: North Sea as breeding ground for innovation

22 June 2020 • 4 min reading time

By cleverly combining energy systems, CO2 emissions in the North Sea can be drastically reduced. There will also be enough room for shipping and fishing, society will save billions of euros and the ecosystem will benefit too. Industry is embracing these conclusions of the research carried out by North Sea Energy (NSE), a public-private partnership between more than 30 parties, including TNO. The international marine contractor Van Oord, active on the seas and ports around the world and partner in NSE, see opportunities

"It goes without saying that, as a marine company, we have a vested interest in the further development of offshore wind energy," says Sven Kramer, Director of Sustainability at Van Oord Dredging and Marine Contractors.

“We are delighted to construct these wind farms and proposed energy islands, but we did not become a participant in the North Sea Energy programme purely out of commercial interest. We are keen to do our bit and to on developing knowledge and giving the energy transition in the North Sea a boost, and so help create a better world for future generations. It’s part of the philosophy of our family business.”

"We are talking here about here are enormous projects that will have a huge impact”

Joining forces

To realise system integration in the North Sea, North Sea Energy has made several recommendations, including the electrification of oil and gas platforms, the storage of CO2 in spent gas fields and the construction of energy islands, and the offshore production of green hydrogen and its transport to land.

TNO expert René Peters: "Some 30 parties are working together in this consortium, including international oil and gas companies, wind-farm operators, energy companies, maritime service providers and suppliers, as well as knowledge institutions and public authorities. But there are also close ties with NGOs that focus on protecting marine life, such as Stichting De Noordzee and De Rijke Noordzee. NSE busies itself with new concepts, technologies and the economic side. But if we want to organise the North Sea intelligently to deliver a sustainable energy supply, all stakeholders will have to join forces."


"I completely agree," says Sven. "Business and sustainability can reinforce one another. The North Sea adds a great deal of value, in the form of energy, shipping, fishing and recreation. But to keep it that way, we also have to pay attention to the recovery and preservation of our ecosystems. At Van Oord, we call this 'marine ingenuity', or having the resourcefulness to develop offshore activities in such a way that flora and fauna can continue to flourish. For example, we are working together with De Rijke Noordzee and Natuur & Milieu on the recovery of oyster beds at the foot of wind farms. It shows that generating sustainable energy can easily go hand-in-hand with improving biodiversity in the North Sea. We’re proud of that."

“To deliver a sustainable energy supply, all stakeholders will have to join forces”

Creating added value

In the context of NSE, Van Oord has been closely involved in the work package that focused on energy islands. "This is where companies operating in the North Sea worked well together on a complex issue," says René.

"The question is whether and how added value can be created with one or more islands. And, if this is so, how big do they have to be and at what distance from the coast should they be built? A distance of more than 100 kilometres makes it interesting to convert wind-generated electricity into hydrogen and then bring it ashore via existing pipelines. The transport of molecules becomes cheaper than conducting electrons through cables.

The scale on which you reach the optimum has also been investigated: how much installed capacity is needed to bring the energy ashore as viably as possible? In the case of the energy islands, the question is whether to convert all the energy into hydrogen or seek out the ideal combination of electricity and hydrogen. At TNO, we bring our expertise in the field of technology to the party and the companies bring their practical knowledge. That combination is extremely valuable."

Making the fleet more sustainable

Sven: "Hydrogen produced by wind power can also be converted to fuels such as green methanol. That is important for us, because we are actively looking for ways to make our fleet more sustainable. About 100 vessels are involved, ranging from pipe- and cable-laying vessels to huge installation vessels. For such low-CO2 marine fuels you need mainly green hydrogen as the raw material. And this is another reason why the continued construction of wind farms and energy islands is very important to Van Oord."

”International cooperation will be a prominent feature of the next phase”

Enormous size and impact

Organising the North Sea in such a way that large new wind farms, the production of green hydrogen, CO2 storage and temporary gas production can coexist without taking up too much space or damaging marine life presents the challenge in the short term.

It will call for intensive cooperation between a great diversity of parties, as well as alignment with current initiatives in the Port of Rotterdam, such as Porthos (the transport of CO2 from the port area to gas fields under the North Sea), H-vision (the production of blue hydrogen through the capture of CO2) and Gasunie and TenneT's plans for the integration of the future infrastructure.

"Developments are moving really quickly and what we are talking about here are enormous projects that will have a huge impact. We can’t do it all ourselves and it is important that NSE takes on the appropriate role of system integration. For us at Van Oord, sustainable development of the North Sea is vital."