The business community in the Rotterdam port area is making an effort to switch from fossil energy and raw materials to alternatives. Deltalinqs entrepreneurs’ association is pleased with the investment in HyTransPort, the hydrogen pipeline right through the port area. “It shows companies that they mean business.”
“Oil will eventually disappear from the petrochemical processes. As a fuel and as a raw material”, says Alice Krekt bluntly. “It is therefore important for the companies in the Rotterdam port and industrial complex that they make the switch from fossil fuels and raw materials to sustainable alternatives (energy transition).” Alternatives that will not run out and that ensure that the industry emits drastically less CO2 (climate transition). Hydrogen is such an alternative. It can be used as fuel and as raw material.
The entrepreneurs’ representative
Krekt is director of the Climate Program of Deltalinqs. About 700 companies from the logistics, port and industry in Rotterdam are affiliated with the Deltalinqs entrepreneurs’ association. This makes it the representative of about 95 percent of the companies in the port area. The Climate Program helps companies with the energy and raw materials transition.
Fossil fuel and raw material
The activities in the Rotterdam port area require a great deal of energy, and factories invest for the long term. That is why the switch from fossil energy to clean forms of energy was not made lightly. Transshipment and transport require energy, but it is mainly industry that consumes a lot. Refineries split petroleum entering the port into different products. Part of this is destined for the petrochemical industry, which makes raw materials for plastics, for example. To do this, the long molecules from petroleum are cracked until they fall apart into smaller molecules. This requires high temperatures (often 2000 degrees Celsius or more). Heating is done with natural gas. In addition, the petrochemical industry uses natural gas to make hydrogen (H2), which serves as a raw material for cracking; By binding H2, the new, smaller molecules can be formed from petroleum.
“Even if fossil materials such as petroleum and natural gas disappear from the chemical industry, the process of breaking down and building up molecules will continue, but then with sustainable fuels and raw materials. What we therefore find very important is that a good alternative is available for natural gas, so that the industry can continue to use the high temperatures for cracking,” says Krekt.
Emissions almost halved
The Deltalinqs Climate Program, together with the port and industrial area in Moerdijk, aims to reduce CO2 emissions by 10 million tons in 2030 compared to 1990. That is almost a halving of emissions. Rotterdam industry can achieve a total of 20 to 25 percent of the CO2 reduction targets set in the Dutch Climate Agreement with a series of projects. In the Climate Agreement it has been agreed that as a country it will emit 48.7 million tons less CO2 by 2030 than in 1990.
As chair of the Climate Table Port and Industry for Rotterdam and Moerdijk, Alice Krekt is leading the progress of this sustainability process and discussing the preconditions for this with government authorities. “We want to reach that 10 million tons. But we do notice that the slow cabinet formation has an inhibiting effect. Regulations and financing arrangements are falling behind schedule.”
Electricity and hydrogen
Through the Climate Program, Deltalinqs is making an inventory of what the companies in the port of Rotterdam need for the energy and raw materials transition. For example, it shows where energy savings are possible, which forms of energy companies will use in the future, and which infrastructure is needed in the area. For example, Deltalinqs is working on electrification and hydrogen.
Krekt: “Electrification is important for sustainability, which is why we are also focusing on that. But for heavy industry it is not a total solution to the energy issue. High temperatures are not feasible with electricity. But that works very well with hydrogen as a fuel. The ambition of the companies in the port of Rotterdam is to use 20 million tons of hydrogen as raw material and fuel by 2050, fifty times as much as now.”
Grey, Blue, Green and Low Carbon
Almost all hydrogen currently used is grey hydrogen. This H2 is made from natural gas and this process releases CO2. If the released CO2 is stored in the soil, the end product is called blue hydrogen. Only if hydrogen is made from water, with the help of solar or wind energy, can it be called green hydrogen. There is also talk of ‘low-carbon’ hydrogen. The definitions of these differ, but a clear reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is an important characteristic.
H-vision: hydrogen from residual gas
Alice Krekt is also project director of H-vision, with which Deltalinqs and various companies from the Rotterdam port industrial area want to accelerate the availability of low-carbon hydrogen.
‘We want to make low-carbon hydrogen from industrial waste. This hydrogen should replace natural gas for heating.’
Residual gases are created during most chemical processes and it is very harmful to let them escape. They are now used again in the production processes. H-vision wants to collect the refinery gases centrally and use them to make low-carbon hydrogen. The CO2 released in this process will be stored by H-vision in empty gas fields in the seabed. The hydrogen that the two H-vision factories will produce can be used emission-free in the refining process.
Deltalinqs calls this low-carbon hydrogen indispensable for achieving the climate goals. Krekt: “H-vision’s hydrogen factories can save 2.7 million tons of CO2 emissions per year. That is almost 20 percent of what the total industry in the Netherlands must reduce in 2030 according to the Climate Agreement. Moreover, we are already laying a foundation for the hydrogen infrastructure for the future.”
A few engineering firms are working on a design for these hydrogen factories. A choice will be made from these proposals in 2022. The first factory should be operational in 2027.
According to Krekt, it is also necessary to quickly scale up the production of green hydrogen. There are already several initiatives for this. For example, Shell wants to have its first electrolysis plant running on the Maasvlakte by 2023 to produce green hydrogen from wind energy. Krekt: “Import is also necessary. Hydrogen made with solar energy in the Sahara is also green. Several companies are already working on innovations to transport hydrogen efficiently.”
Time is running out
Initiatives such as H-vision and other hydrogen plans by companies in the port encounter a slow central government, which, according to Krekt, is currently not showing any direction: “For example, 6 billion euros of European money is available to help companies that are now sticking their necks out with hydrogen. The national government must claim that. But that is not happening because of the long cabinet formation. Just as the government does not make certification agreements for imported hydrogen, for example. Or make a clear statement about the degree of purity that hydrogen must have for various applications. Time is running out. In the Rotterdam port and industry cluster, the technical installations of many companies are aligned. Companies must make agreements with each other if they want to invest in a new factory or convert a factory for a new application such as hydrogen. Once every five years there is a major investment round in new technology. If the government lingers too long, the next round of investment is over. Then we will miss the big blow with which we can achieve the climate goals for 2030,” warns Krekt.
As far as she is concerned, the government could take HyTransPort as an example; The Port of Rotterdam Authority is working with Hynetwork Services, a part of Gasunie specialized in hydrogen, on a hydrogen pipeline that runs from the new electrolysis plants on the Maasvlakte to Pernis. The 32-kilometer pipeline, with five branches to large hydrogen consumers, should be operational in 2024.
“It’s great that the Port of Rotterdam Authority is tackling this. This is a basic facility that is very necessary. Road transport of hydrogen would be particularly inefficient here,” says Krekt.
According to her, the construction has a catalytic effect. “There are still many uncertainties. There are no certifications yet. It is unknown where the pipe will connect to a national grid. Whether Germany will use a hydrogen network remains to be seen. The fact that the Port of Rotterdam Authority is taking this step gives us confidence as a business. The Port Authority’s practical approach, not just talking, but simply putting cash on the barrel… That is encouraging. It enables a multitude of investments by companies, bringing the hydrogen economy a step forward. It also shows companies: look, it’s serious, something is really happening. This ensures that the next step is taken in sustainability in the internal discussions at companies.”
Nature and Environment Federation South Holland (NMZH) has no doubts that the port of Rotterdam takes the energy transition seriously. According to NMZH, the hydrogen pipe of HyTransPort is indispensable for that transition. This does not mean that the environmental organization does not take a critical look at the construction. Alex Ouwehand explains this.
“The Rotterdam port area is extremely fossil-driven. The business community and the Port of Rotterdam understand very well that they need to get rid of this dependence on fossil raw materials in order to remain a leader. We don’t need to get companies involved in that thought. That realization is already there.” Alex Ouwehand, director of the Nature and Environment Federation South Holland (NMZH), has no doubts that the port takes the energy transition seriously.
At the end of 2019, the Rotterdam city council approved the revised Port Vision 2030, which includes the ambition to be not only the most important port and industrial complex by 2030, but also a leader in sustainability and efficiency. Two pillars underpin that ambition: improving air quality and minimizing CO2 emissions. While the Rotterdam port and industrial complex still accounted for 18 percent of Dutch CO2 emissions in 2019, it wants to work towards CO2 neutrality by 2050.
“We need hydrogen to make the leap forward to less fossil fuel consumption,” says Ouwehand. A good CO2 reduction program requires meaningful steps. According to him, the hydrogen pipeline of HyTransPort, which must be in the pipeline street from Maasvlakte to Pernis by the end of 2024, start of 2025, is such a step.
Like the Port of Rotterdam authority and Gasunie, NMZH participates in the Hydrogen Coalition. This is an initiative of 39 network operators, industrial parties, energy companies, governments, nature and environmental organizations and scientists. This coalition presented the Hydrogen Pact in spring 2021. It is a call to allocate a budget of 2.5 billion euros in the coalition agreement to invest in hydrogen infrastructure, so that a basic network in the Netherlands is ready by 2025.
Ouwehand emphasizes that hydrogen is not the only solution. “Wind and solar energy and other sustainable energy sources are also needed. And, above all, less energy will have to be used. But green hydrogen is definitely one of the most important energy carriers of the future. For industry – as fuel and raw material – and for heavy transport. And to store energy. Electrification is more obvious for heating homes, private transport and small-scale distribution. Electricity can provide enough power for homes and cars.”
Green hydrogen is made with sustainable wind or solar energy. No CO2 is released during the production of green hydrogen. Most hydrogen currently used in the Netherlands is grey hydrogen, made from natural gas. This does release CO2. When that CO2 is stored, the hydrogen is called blue.
The fact that the NMZH is in favour of the construction of a network of hydrogen pipelines, and therefore also of the 32 kilometre long pipeline of HyTransPort, does not mean that the organization does not take a critical look at its construction and management. What does NMZH pay attention to? Ouwehand: “We want the construction to be done carefully. We ask for circularity. And we insist that the management of the hydrogen network will not be tradable.”
Nature in the harbour
The Rotterdam port area is adjacent to sensitive Natura 2000 areas. “Besides the fact that nature and the port are located next to each other, they can also integrate. There are many opportunities to realize nature in the port area. That is already happening. You can see it in the seals, the bird colonies and the nature around Rozenburg,” says Ouwehand.
“The impact of the port and industrial area is greater than the square kilometres on which it is located. At Tata Steel you can see what happens when a large industrial complex does not treat its environment with care. Then trust is lost. The port and industry have an interest in robust nature in the area and in careful handling of nature and the environment. It gives them a ‘licence to produce’, social benevolence. The good news is that the port authority and many of the companies in the port and industrial complex share those principles. They are aware of their responsibility for the health of the people in this densely populated region and for nature.”
NMZH ensures that nature in the area is spared when building hydrogen factories and hydrogen infrastructure. “Electricity from offshore wind farms, needed for the production of green hydrogen, comes ashore on the Maasvlakte. It is important that this happens at one point. Central landfall disturbs nature less than landfall in more places and it results in less energy loss,” says Ouwehand. “Where the pipeline cuts through nature or green zones, we argue for a bend. Or another creative solution so that the natural value of the port on balance remains the same or improves. A colony of lesser black-backed gulls has previously been successfully relocated. That is possible again.”
“A colony of lesser black-backed gulls has moved here before. That’s possible again.”
As far as NMZH is concerned, laying the pipeline can only be done in a circular way. That is to say: with materials that can be reused and with contractors who use emission-free tools, so for example electrical machines instead of tools that run on diesel. “The legislation on that point is not that far yet. But it’s pretty easy to say, “I’m following the law, so I don’t have to exert myself any further.” Everyone has an interest in reducing CO2 and nitrogen emissions. Working completely emission free – without emissions – requires major investments from contractors. As a government, you can be a ‘launching customer’, the first customer to smooth out such an investment task. Do set strict requirements in the tender, but also offer compensation in return. The construction of this pipeline will be an iconic project. Use that to gain experience with circular construction.”
Boss of the pipe
In addition to dealing carefully with the environment and circular construction, NMZH is alert to a third point: control over the pipeline. Ouwehand: “It’s not just about making good use of the hydrogen that will flow through it. The issue of how to keep grey, blue and green hydrogen apart. Ensure that hydrogen is used efficiently, in other words in places where electrification is not possible. That’s all important. But even more important is the question: ‘Who is in charge of the pipeline?’ Ownership of the pipeline route in which the hydrogen pipeline will be installed is of enormous strategic importance. The Port of Rotterdam is issuing the land for the pipeline. The construction of the pipe is a public-private project. We argue that the land and the pipe remain the property of the port authority and that they cannot be traded. If this infrastructure comes into the hands of private companies or foreign governments, this could endanger the continuity of the hydrogen supply and pose a strategic disadvantage for the port of Rotterdam. The private and public interest must remain well separated. Fortunately, the House of Representatives is also starting to pay attention to these types of constructions.”
As a representative of nature and the environment, NMZH offers ‘cooperation’, brings social support, including through the affiliated organisations, and its good name can help companies to complete an investment.
To start with the latter: “We regularly write a letter of support for companies, a letter in which the NMZH expresses itself in favour of a green investment by a company. There are financing schemes for companies that want to become more sustainable. For some of these schemes, the opinion of an independent NGO is important. We look at the sustainability plans of companies and find something to do with it. If our opinion about a sustainable investment plan is positive, it helps such a company to get financing. This is how we help sustainability move forward.”
Such a process already contains thinking and connecting power. The same applies to the consultations in which NMZH participates or, for example, from the Hydrogen Coalition. “It is good to insist with several parties at the same time that certain rules or infrastructure must be introduced quickly.” NMZH also takes its own initiatives. In 2020, for example, it compared the sustainability of fifteen international seaports and the Dutch seaports together with research agency CE Delft. It showed that although there are many plans waiting to be realised, the realization of the agreed CO2 reduction is still lagging behind. Significant steps will have to be taken in the coming years to achieve the goals for 2030.
“You can’t start communicating early enough”
Tip for support
When it comes to social support, Ouwehand has a tip: you can’t start communicating early enough. “It is simply important to be transparent and to provide good information, so that the port environment can adapt to the task faced by companies and the government. But it is also useful to avoid resistance during further development and realization. Nobody is against clean energy, but a windmill in the immediate vicinity of one’s own home often leads to one digging his heels in. Unfortunately, this is too often due to poor communication and insufficient organisation. If you explain the usefulness and necessity at an early stage and allow the environment to think along better, there is still room to listen to ideas and objections and to act on them. You will never convince everyone, but then the support is much greater,” says Ouwehand.
“In this way, the support of residents of Rozenburg, Pernis or Oostvoorne for the hydrogen pipe of HyTransPort is also bigger if they know what is at stake. Without this leadership, we cannot make the switch to green hydrogen, which is indispensable to achieve the climate goals and reduce CO2 emissions in the port and industrial area of Rotterdam to the agreed goal: climate neutrality in 2050.”