‘Without hydrogen we can’t make the leap forward to less fossil energy’

28.03.22

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.

Hydrogen Pact

“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.

Alex Ouwehand - Zuid-Hollandse Milieu Federatie

Critical look

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.”

Bend

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.”

Iconic project

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.”

Good name

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.

Alex Ouwehand - NMZH over HyTransPort

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.”

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