DCMR Environmental Protection Agency gives sustainability enhancement green carpet treatment

14.09.21

Preparations for the first 32 kilometres of hydrogen pipeline of HyTransPort, from Maasvlakte to Pernis, are on schedule. The DCMR Environmental Protection Agency is looking into the expected impact of all hydrogen plans in the region on the environment. Axel Pel, Programme Manager Sustainability Enhancement Industry at DCMR, explains the views of the Rijnmond Environmental Protection Agency on the new pipeline and on hydrogen as a green fuel. ‘We give sustainable initiatives the green carpet treatment.’ 

Do we really need hydrogen here?

‘The Netherlands wants its energy system to be carbon neutral by 2050. This will only be possible if we have abandoned the use of fossil fuels by then. Demand for energy is huge and can’t be met by electricity alone. Hydrogen is a good addition. It is easy to produce from water by means of electrolysis. This is a clean process, for no CO2 is released, and oxygen is the only by-product. Storing energy requires a molecule. The good news is that hydrogen is the perfect molecule. It is ideal for storing as well as transporting energy.’

Hydrogen requires new pipelines. Isn’t that unpractical?

‘It is true that the infrastructure has to be adjusted, and it remains to be seen if we can get hydrogen into every kitchen. For road transport, however, or as a fuel in the industry and for aircraft and vessels, green hydrogen is a fuel for the future. It is clean energy made from water with the help of green power generated by offshore wind farms. Hydrogen isn’t more dangerous or complex than natural gas, which we have been familiar with for decades.

Certainly, we need more pipelines and other infrastructure, but hydrogen pipelines are nothing new. Besides, part of the natural gas infrastructure could be used for hydrogen. The industry currently uses hydrogen for certain processes, the so-called grey hydrogen from natural gas, so there’s no need to develop much new technology for those pipelines.’

What is new, though, is the plant where Shell wants to make green hydrogen as from 2023.

‘Correct. It will be the largest plant in Europe with a capacity of 200 megawatts, ten times the amount of hydrogen plants today. A plant that large can provide five percent of hydrogen demand in Rijnmond. On Maasvlakte 2, where this electrolysis plant will be located, the Port of Rotterdam Authority has reserved space for another three of such massive green hydrogen plants and for two more elsewhere in the port. Now that Shell has led the way, more companies have grown interested in building a plant like this. Having a hydrogen hub in the Rotterdam port area is a major step in the energy transition.’

DCMR has the task to issue the permit for the plant. What are the criteria to be met?

‘As with all new plants, DCMR monitors whether all legislation and regulations on safety and the environment are complied with. The technology of this plant is not unknown, and no new regulations are required. Developing sustainable energy is perfectly consistent with the plans of the province of South Holland and the Municipality of Rotterdam. In that sense, it is not so exciting. On the other hand, hydrogen has never been made from water on such a large scale, so that is why we look at this carefully. Safety, noise and pollution – as well as good communication with the stakeholders in the surrounding area – are the key aspects we concentrate on in the permit procedure.

The safety risks of hydrogen are known. It’s a light, odourless, highly flammable gas, especially when it comes into contact with oxygen. You can compare it with natural gas, which is also transported under high pressure via pipelines throughout the country.

The compressors used for compressing the hydrogen gas are very noisy. We check if these noises are sufficiently muffled and that the parties comply with the standards and agreements about noise. Residents in Oostvoorne, the district closest to the hydrogen plant, want to sleep well.

The production of hydrogen does not contaminate the surrounding area. Far from it: oxygen is released. Maasvlakte 2 has a new, unpolluted soil. Some nitrogen will be emitted while the plant is under construction, though. The new Nitrogen Reduction and Nature Improvement Act includes an exemption clause that provides for this, so it is not considered in the permit procedure.’

Is DCMR also responsible for granting the permit for the pipeline?

‘In the Netherlands, the pipelines for the transport of gases under high pressure are built by Nederlandse Gasunie, which has the expertise and experience this takes. For HyTransPort, the hydrogen pipeline from Maasvlakte to Pernis, the Port of Rotterdam Authority cooperates with Hynetwork Services, which is specialised in hydrogen and part of Gasunie. The Municipality of Rotterdam issues the permit for the pipeline through the port. The Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (ILT), the supervisory body of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, checks the work performed by Gasunie. Only the coupling of the hydrogen plant to the first part of the pipeline is supervised by DCMR.’

What is the role of DCMR for people living along the pipeline?

‘At this moment, we are using a comprehensive environmental survey to examine the consequences of the construction for the environment and the surrounding area (the construction of the pipeline is within the zoning plan, which requires no Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) -ed.-). What is more, Rijnmond already has a pipeline corridor, which can easily accommodate this hydrogen pipeline. This means that no new route is needed, and nature or building sites will not be jeopardised. From this perspective, the impact is fairly limited.

All the same, Rozenburg and Pernis residents will have an extra pipeline running along their backyard, with all the risks involved. So it is obvious that residents are adequately informed and receive answers to any questions they have. We urge the Port of Rotterdam Authority to consult with the residents transparently and in a timely manner, and the project team is doing this well.’

DCMR is the Environmental Protection Agency of South Holland, the Municipality of Rotterdam, and fifteen municipalities nearby. They recently had to submit their Regional Energy Strategy (RES -in Dutch-). These plans brim over with plans for sustainable energy. What is DCMR’s role in this?

‘We assist in realising these plans. DCMR gives the green carpet treatment to initiatives from companies that fit in with the energy transition of the province and municipalities. These sustainable plans are given priority in the permit procedure. We mobilise knowledge, we deploy experts who know the procedures and practice, and we use our network of services in the area. We will do our utmost to prevent procedures from causing delays to a good green plan. We don’t want to be an obstacle on the road to improved sustainability.

The idea for the hydrogen plant came to us via the Acceleration House (Versnellingshuis), an initiative of the Port of Rotterdam Authority and Deltalinqs, the employers’ organisation of the business community in the port. The Acceleration House ensures that a green plan lands on the right desks quickly, so that the necessary procedures can be complied with smoothly and the available subsidies can be used without any difficulty.’

Are there any impediments to green hydrogen?

‘Today, the production is about twice as expensive as the production of grey or blue hydrogen (both made from natural gas, but with blue hydrogen CO2 is collected for storage under the sea bed).

There are no legal impediments to building a hydrogen pipeline, but for using hydrogen there are some blank spots in the regulations and some unanswered questions about subsidies and taxes. These really need to be addressed quickly by the authorities. If the pipeline is in place in 2024, if the largest hydrogen plant in Europe is in operation, and if companies can use it, CO2 emissions will be reduced by about 150 kilotonnes per year, half a percent of current emissions in the Rijnmond region.’

Photo’s by Jerry Lampen, copyright Jerry Lampen.

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