Hydrogen will play a crucial role in the energy transition system of the future. At least, if it can be produced sustainably. Over the coming three years, preparations to establish Europe’s biggest green hydrogen plant will be taking place in the Port of Rotterdam. ‘The potential is enormous, as are the number of steps that the many parties will need to take together over a longer period in order to achieve this.’
Hydrogen seems like a miracle solution. It is a raw material for industry, you can run cars on it or heat homes with it. And all without emissions; the only residual product is water. Until now, however, hydrogen was mainly obtained by converting natural gas at high temperatures. That means there’s still a fossil fuel component, and CO2 is released. This could be done differently. Water (H2O) can actually be split into hydrogen (H) and oxygen (O) via electrolysis. If you use green energy for this electrolysis, such as wind or solar power, the hydrogen is CO2 neutral. And that’s exactly the intention in Rotterdam.
Not as simple as A B C
The BP refinery in Europoort uses hydrogen in yet another way, namely for fuel desulphurisation, as sulphur results in acid rain. ‘Together with Nouryon and the Port of Rotterdam Authority, we’ll be taking on the challenge to see whether we can establish a green hydrogen supply here,’ explained Corné Boot, Head of Government Affairs at BP Nederland. The plant needs to be able to produce 45,000 tonnes of green hydrogen annually, immediately making it Europe’s biggest hydrogen plant. ‘This will enable us to save 350,000 tonnes in CO2 emissions. However, we will need a 250-Megawatt green power connection for this. And when you realise that current offshore wind turbines have a capacity of some 6 to 10 Megawatts each, you can imagine that this is not as simple as A B C.’
25 times larger
That’s why the three parties are taking three years to produce the business case. Nouryon, formerly AkzoNobel Specialty Chemicals, is taking responsibility for the construction and operation of the hydrogen plant. ‘The complex technical integration in an existing industrial environment is one aspect of this planning phase’, explained Marcel Galjee, Nouryon’s Energy Director. ‘The precise implementation of the recently announced climate agreement is vital for the realisation of such projects. Which incentives will be available, and how do we develop the infrastructure needed at the right time? It is hugely complex, which means that technical feasibility is crucial. Today’s reality is that Europe’s biggest water electrolyser is at Nouryon in Norway, and this is 10 Megawatts. At the BP refinery we’re talking about a scale some 25 times larger. This demonstrates the challenge we’re facing.’
Various interim stages have been incorporated in the process, although these are not in Rotterdam. Early next year, the plan needs to be concluded for Nouryon’s construction of a 20-Megawatt plant at the Chemie Park Delfzijl; the final decision for a 100-Megawatt hydrogen plant at Tata Steel in IJmuiden will follow a year later. Galjee: ‘We learn something from every project. In principle, the technology is still in its infancy. This means that the entire value chain from energy supply, suppliers, producers and purchasers also needs to make a quantum leap in terms of scale. That’s why cooperation is so important and it is essential that the partners in Rotterdam meet to discuss this with the core of this chain, including the Port Authority. You don’t build solutions for a sustainable future-proof industry alone, you need cooperation and new partners for that.’
‘We think it’s important to discuss this development from the very start, because our Wuppertal studies showed that we need 40 plants of this scale’, stated Nico van Dooren, the Port of Rotterdam Authority’s Energy and Process Industry Manager. ‘Either way, it’s up to us to enable the infrastructure, although large-scale electrolysers that are connected to offshore wind farms are also vital in realising our climate objectives. It goes without saying that this is a challenging project, but it’s one we’re keen to give space to. We want Rotterdam to develop to become a green hydrogen hub.’
12 Gigawatt not enough
A final decision will be made in 2022 as to whether to establish the hydrogen plant. In the meantime, the planning process is continuing in many areas. And that’s really necessary. Boot: ‘The plan is that there will be 12 Gigawatt in offshore wind energy in the Dutch section of the North Sea by 2030. However, this entire capacity is still not enough for only Rotterdam’s demand for green electricity and hydrogen. We also aim to achieve a mix of measures and technology, because we really want a future with low CO2 emissions. This means efficiency in processes, electrification, CO2 capture and storage, reuse of residual heat and green hydrogen.’ I think it’s great that the Port of Rotterdam aims to be a leader in many of these areas. That’s something we really like to support.’
The large-scale production and utilisation of blue hydrogen will allow local industry in Rotterdam to substantially reduce its CO2 emissions, well before 2030. This is one of the main conclusions of the feasibility study carried out by 16 companies and organisations, under the guidance of Deltalinqs, within the H-vision project.
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