‘Construction of the hydrogen backbone gives companies confidence’

28.03.22

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.

Sustainable alternatives

“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.

Alice Krekt - Deltalinqs

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.’

Alice Krekt - Deltalinqs

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.

HyTransPort decisive

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.”

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