Rotterdam focuses on hydrogen

21 July 2021
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How the construction of Shell Hydrogen Holland I — the very first hydrogen factory — gives a boost to the green hydrogen economy in the Netherlands. A discussion between Randolf Weterings from the Port of Rotterdam Authority and Lijs Groenendaal of Shell.

Randolf Weterings
Randolf Weterings

‘No one in the world has ever done this at this scale,’ begins Lijs Groenendaal, the Shell manager responsible for the project. ‘Everywhere you look, ideas are under development and projects relating to hydrogen are being formed. But the scope and the deadline of our project is what makes it unique. Hopefully we will make the final investment decision for the factory at the beginning of next year, and then we can really get to work.’

The development of hydrogen in the Rotterdam harbour has accelerated rapidly over the last two years, Randolf Weterings, manager of Electrification and Hydrogen at Port of Rotterdam Authority, knows. ‘Where I previously had to explain why hydrogen is so important for decarbonisation, parties are now approaching me to start working with blue and green hydrogen. That’s a very nice switch.’

Port of Rotterdam Authority facilitates this development by investing in good infrastructure, including the construction of a hydrogen pipeline from the Maasvlakte to Pernis. And later, continuing this to Germany. The Port Authority has also designated a piece of land for green hydrogen production: the conversion park at Maasvlakte 2.

How do you explain the increased interest in hydrogen?

Weterings answers: ‘The Paris climate targets are starting to sink in. Carbon neutrality is truly valued. And in striving to achieve those targets, enhancing the sustainability of molecules is a crucial step. This can be done using hydrogen — and we accept that now. The conditions for hydrogen are also becoming more favourable. Countries are setting ever higher ambitions for CO2 reduction, and almost every country in Europe has an ambitious hydrogen strategy. CO2 emission rights are currently more than 50 euros per tonne of emissions. The set of instruments is starting to work. This means that hydrogen projects are no longer pilots; instead, their business case is really taking shape. Companies must and want to respond to this development.’

What exactly will Shell build?

Groenendaal responds, ‘We are far along, but we still need to make the final choice of design for the factory, so we don’t yet know that in detail. In any case, however, it will not look like what you would imagine to be a typical factory, with all sorts of pipes and moving parts. It will be a low hall, on large grounds the size of about six football fields, with all sorts of electrolysis equipment. In this factory, we could produce 50 to 60 tonnes of green hydrogen on a daily basis — enough to power some 2,300 hydrogen lorries each day. We need green power for that production. We can get this from the power grid, preferably sourced from our offshore wind farm Hollandse Kust(north).’

And what happens to the green hydrogen?

Groenendaal explains: ‘We could lead that hydrogen through a pipeline of about 40 kilometres long, which will run from Maasvlakte 2 to the refinery in Pernis. This is a project whose feasibility is currently being investigated by Port of Rotterdam Authority and Gasunie. This project would allow us to have a number of processes in the refinery run partly carbon neutral and therefore use green hydrogen. Annually, this would replace around 20,000 tonnes of grey hydrogen, made from natural gas. As a result, the refinery would emit less CO2. The pipeline will be connected to a national hydrogen network, and, ultimately, the green hydrogen can also be used by the mobility sector.’

What does the construction of Shell’s first green hydrogen factory in Rotterdam mean?

Weterings replies, ‘It is enormously important to show that the technology works. And that it works at a large scale. If you’re the first one to do this, you can be sure you’ll run up against regulations that aren’t an exact fit and subsidies that don’t align precisely. With such a first development, Shell is paving the way for other developments at the conversion park. Four are already in preparation. The factory that Shell will develop is good for 200 MW of electrolysis capacity — an enormous scaling up of the technology. But considering the ambitions in the field of hydrogen, it is actually just the beginning.’

What are the ambitions for hydrogen at the Port of Rotterdam Authority?

Weterings replies, ‘We want to be the hydrogen hub of Europe — in fact, the same position we now fulfil with oil. So we have to think big. In 2030, we want to realise a total production capacity of 2 to 2.5 GW, largely at the conversion park. Looking further, to 2050, our ambition is to have 20 million tonnes of hydrogen go through our harbour towards the hinterland, to the users in North West Europe. Of that total, 10% will be produced in Rotterdam, but 90% will arrive by ship.’

How do Shell and Port of Rotterdam Authority work together?

Groenendaal: ‘Our collaboration with Port of Rotterdam Authority and Gasunie is very important. Once we are able to start construction, the infrastructure in the area will also be built. Later, more hydrogen factories will be able to make use of this infrastructure. We are developing knowledge together, and we share that with each other. That’s how we learn how we can produce green hydrogen on a large scale.’

Lijs Groenendaal
Lijs Groenendaal

Weterings adds, ‘We are trying to take all these steps with the entire chain: Making sure there are wind parks at sea, ensuring that hydrogen factories will be developed, providing hydrogen service stations, good infrastructure, the right incentives, driving demand for hydrogen. Everything at the same time.’

What interesting work you both have!

Weterings nods, ‘Absolutely. There is no better setting to work in than in the hydrogen economy. It involves incredibly large quantities: 13% of the energy that Europe needs is now provided via Rotterdam. Of that, 5% is produced in Rotterdam, which makes us responsible for 18% of Dutch CO2 emissions. We are working on making the energy provision for the entire North West Europe more sustainable. This first factory, it’s just scaling up twenty times relative to the latest technology! And so much more is coming down the line. It’s cool to be a part of that.’

Groenendaal adds, ‘Yes, our project also enjoys great interest. I receive a lot of e-mails from people who want to work with hydrogen. Also from suppliers and regional industrial parties who want to contribute to the project. I also regularly speak at events about hydrogen. Even my hairdresser is interested and enthusiastic. That was a bit different when I was working with fossil-based energy,’ Groenendaal chuckles.