NOM, together with DUJAT, Dutch Japanese Trade Federation, hosted a webinar on December 17 about the development of hydrogen in Europe and the Northern Netherlands.
The planned visit of the Dutch & Japanese Trade Federation (Dujat) to the Northern Netherlands region in June had to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak. As an alternative, an Energy Webinar on 'Development of Hydrogen' was held on 17 December, organized by Dujat and NOM, the Regional Development Agency for the Northern Netherlands.
Dina Boonstra, president of NOM, opened the Webinar and briefly introduced the topic: the need to use hydrogen in the transition to a carbon-free energy system. Japan is one of the leading countries in hydrogen deployment, while the Netherlands can build on its position as a leader in natural gas to accelerate hydrogen development. As the Northern Netherlands forms the backbone of the Dutch natural gas infrastructure, and is located near a number of large solar parks and off-shore wind parks, it is uniquely positioned to become a core region for the development of the EU hydrogen strategy.
The Northern Netherlands region is also called the 'TopDutch region'. The three northern provinces cover a quarter of the Dutch soil and have 1.7 million inhabitants, several large knowledge institutes among which is the University of Groningen, and a broad palette of innovative industries.
The TopDutch regions is strong in AgriFood, with large agricultural areas, combined with industrial sectors in green chemistry and bio-based economy. The green chemistry builds in part on the region's history with a fossil-based chemical industry, and can also develop green building blocks from locally abundant agricultural waste biomass or sugar beets. These green developments are brought together in the Chemport Europe ecosystem, a NOM initiative.
A second strong point of the TopDutch region is its focus on energy. With a history in natural gas production and transport, the region is now a frontrunner in green energy via its connection to large scale off shore wind parks that are being developed, but the region is also determined to be the Green Hydrogen Capital of Europe. This ambition is supported by a world-class infrastructure of seaports, rails, roads, waterways, airports and knowledge of logistical processing, combined with knowledge institutes and innovative industry. All this makes the region Green, Digital and Talented.
In conclusion, the TopDutch region is a collection of interconnected, purpose-driven and people-powered ecosystems, committed to finding green and digital solutions for global economic, social and ecological challenges. Furthermore, investments are made in sustainable mobility with electrification, hydrogen technologies and new infrastructures.
The first main speaker was Catrinus Jepma, Prof. Em. Energy Transition of the University of Groningen and Senior Advisor to the New Energy Coalition. The case for hydrogen, Jepma explained, lies not in its ability to temporarily store an excess of green energy (solar or wind), but in the need for green molecules to replace fossil sources, both in energy (including fuel) and building blocks for the chemical industry.
About one third of electricity production in the EU is now green, but for molecules, just over 10 percent are green. To reach the goals set by the Paris Agreement, biomass feedstock to produce these molecules is not enough: Only hydrogen can provide them. However, this requires a huge investment in electrolyser capacity. Eventually, the industry will invest in hydrogen, as they already know that fossil sources are a dead end, but government subsidies will be necessary to pass through the 'valley of death', during the first development phase of the hydrogen economy in which production by electrolysers is scaled up to gigawatt levels. Jepma expects that initial government subsidies will make green hydrogen competitive, also because carbon-pricing will increase the cost of grey hydrogen.
The second main speaker was René Schutte, Program Manager Hydrogen at GasUnie, Board Member at Hydrogen Europe and Board Member at Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU). GasUnie is a government-owned infrastructure company, which provides open access to customers and connects the Netherlands to the EU, the UK, and Russia. It also owns LNG terminals for import and provides large scale (underground) storage.
All this is based on natural gas. However, Schutte explained, the future of the company lies in a switch to transporting and storing other molecules, like hydrogen. GasUnie is participating in Megawatt level production chains, which will have to be scaled up to gigawatts in the next decade.
The current infrastructure for transport and storage has to be converted to hydrogen. A first pilot project was completed with an existing natural gas pipeline in the province of Zeeland that was converted to transport hydrogen between two factories. The 1 Megawatt HyStock pilot plant is the first example of a complete value chain, from green electrons (provided by solar panels) to hydrogen and subsequent conversion into fuel. Other projects include Djewels, a plan for a 20 Megawatt hydrogen facility developed in cooperation with Nouryon. The hydrogen will be used to produce green methanol and kerosene. Furthermore, GasUnie is experimenting with hydrogen storage facilities, including underground storage in salt caverns.
In his presentation, Schutte provided information on even more projects to develop a hydrogen economy. Just like Jepma, he stressed the need for initial government subsidies to help create the hydrogen infrastructure.
The webinar was rounded off with a question and answer session. The first question was how realistic the EU's aim is of having a 40 Gigawatt electrolyser capacity in 2030. Jepma called this 'not unrealistic'. He pointed to the 6-900 billion euro covid-19 stimulus package which the EU has agreed on. Just 50 billion is enough for the 40 GW hydrogen capacity. Schutte added that apart from the money, the existing regulations for natural gas have to be adapted to hydrogen, and safety standards for hydrogen must be provided.
The next question was whether the Northern Netherlands is a front runner in the hydrogen economy. This is a bit too strong, according to Jepma. However, the region is the first designated 'hydrogen valley' in Europe and a hydrogen production capacity of some 4 GW is planned. Jepma views the entire North Sea coastal region as the 'front runner' in Europe, due to the availability of green (mostly off-shore) electricity.
An important question is whether large scale hydrogen production and use is safe. Schutte is clear on this: yes, it will be safe, although new regulations need to be developed. The next question was about green energy: Should hydrogen tenders include the green electricity required for production? Both speakers were affirmative, as the pressure on green electricity is already considerable. Jepma added that import of green hydrogen would also be required. This is no big deal, as Europe currently imports around two-thirds of its energy requirement.
The final question was about transport. Will hydrogen make this green? Jepma thinks that in ten years' time, hydrogen-based fuels will power all heavy transport, from buses and trucks to ships and aeroplanes.
In her closing remarks, Anita van der Laan, Senior Business Manager Shippers & Forwarders at Port of Rotterdam and Dujat Board Member, said the carbon-neutral hydrogen economy sounds almost too good to be true. However, it is now being realized, both in Japan and the Netherlands and as such, there are very good opportunities for collaboration.