CO2-neutral living is now closer than ever before thanks to hydrogen

  • Contenttype:
    • Interview
  • Themes:
    • Energy
    • Innovation

The future of hydrogen lies in Rotterdam. As that’s exactly where the Hydro Generation has identified and seized opportunities in order to write history. The Hydro Generation is a group of forerunners who see Rotterdam as the ultimate place to realise innovative CO2-neutral solutions. Richard van As-Jacobsson and Niels de Smet from H2GO are very conscious of the fact something needs to change right now. They want to use hydrogen applications to make a real difference in residential areas.

Portret Niels de Smet CO2 neutral living
Niels de Smet from H2GO, © Eric Fecken

Van As-Jacobsson and De Smet each work on different sub-projects within the H2GO programme. “One specific area which corresponds in our projects and the overarching H2GO programme is the research conducted into different hydrogen applications in residential areas.”

Project manager Van As-Jacobsson works with all manner of different parties every day in order to make Stad aan ‘t Haringvliet on the South Holland island of Goeree-Overflakkee gas-free. The aim is to have a natural gas replacement by 2025, which will be green hydrogen in this case. “But the residents are the ones in charge. They can also opt for a heat pump,” according to Van As-Jacobsson.

Green hydrogen central heating boiler

This involves a total of 638 homes, churches, schools, the community centre and the football club, which will have a hydrogen central heating boiler, connected to the existing pipes and Stedin’s distribution network, in approximately two years’ time. “It’s important for us to only use green hydrogen and that this alternative is just as safe, or in fact even safer, than natural gas. The installation of a mechanical valve, which closes if the pipe leaks, means the risk of hydrogen escaping is minimal. Plus no carbon monoxide is released when hydrogen is burned, unlike natural gas,” the project manager explains.

The Stad aan ‘t Haringvliet residents were the first to take the initial step towards the Natural Gas-Free City project. “This clearly shows there’s fantastic social cohesion. I find that quite extraordinary. I therefore feel morally responsible for monitoring this project and delivering on our promises. It needs to be affordable, safe and feasible for the next 15 years. Otherwise we’ll simply stop.”

The project is currently in its development phase, which also includes a formal vote. Van As-Jacobsson: “We’ll be saying goodbye to natural gas, with hydrogen as a collective alternative, if more than 70 percent of the addresses vote in favour.”

Multifunctional energy station

Another promising project currently taking place on Goeree-Overflakkee is the multifunctional Innovahub energy station. Niels de Smet, electromechanical engineer at Hylife Innovations, is working on this technology which supplies electricity, heating and cooling to connected houses. The Innovahub can simultaneously also store electricity in green hydrogen. The hydrogen will continue to circulate in the closed-loop system. De Smet explains: “It’s a very comprehensive system. We can effectively balance energy production and energy consumption by storing green energy in, for example, green hydrogen. This means there’s always sufficient sustainable energy, day and night, wind or no wind. This is allowing us to make the housing blocks virtually CO2 neutral.”

The technology, which is currently being used to carry out a simulation with 17 different types of homes, also seems to be able to play a role in resolving the increasing grid congestion. “Goeree has an excess supply of green energy. The island is therefore a congestion area. Any excess energy resulting from peaks can be absorbed via the grid connection to the Innovahub. This allows us to help reduce pressure on the grid and means we won’t need to waste any sustainable energy.”

Unique projects

These projects are truly unique and globally the first of their kind and fully contribute to Rotterdam and the region as a European hydrogen hub. “We’ll know exactly what’s needed as soon as everything’s up and running: for example, what you need to do to replace natural gas ovens in the kitchen, but also which pipes to lay or which type of b-valve needs to be installed. We can provide significant contributions to the transformation as a result of our extensive knowledge. We really need to get this done together, with such a multitude of different parties. We’re facing a phenomenal challenge to become climate neutral on a regional, national and global scale,” according to Van As-Jacobsson.

De Smet wholeheartedly agrees. “But words are obviously pretty meaningless if you can’t follow it up with solid actions. And that’s why it’s vital for us to break away from the chicken-and-egg situation: the regulations versus the innovative solutions.” This is where some conflicts can arise at times, according to the men. “High tax levels apply to the supply of electricity and hydrogen. We’re working on that, but it’ll simply take too long when you consider how quickly we have to turn things around,” says Van As-Jacobsson. “Another example: do you want to build a wind farm? Then you’ll also need to pay for its infrastructure. This means you won’t be able to reuse a cable if it already runs past a potential production facility, but you’ll have to install a new one instead. This doesn’t just cost millions, but a great deal of time too,” adds De Smet. “These kind of issues need to be simplified as soon as feasibly possible.”

Both men have identified opportunities for Goeree-Overflakkee to serve as a huge hydrogen buffer for the Rotterdam region. “Much more green electricity is needed throughout the rest of the Netherlands, but the grid congestion has resulted in this electricity not actually being given any room. We can subsequently convert any ‘leftover’ electricity into hydrogen in a scaled-up version of the Innovahub and supply it to Rotterdam, or possibly even the hinterland, via pipelines. We’ll therefore end up with a widespread energy hub, allowing us to unburden the energy grid on the one hand, whilst converting energy into hydrogen on the other.”

Rotterdam geostrategically attractive

Van As-Jacobsson and De Smet agree the Rotterdam region could definitely be the ultimate European hydrogen hub. “It’s an excellent landfall and transition area from a geostrategic perspective.” The transition to clean energy is something which is very close to Van As-Jacobsson’s heart. He therefore feels part of the Hydro Generation. “I’m truly touched by how a village can commit itself to the future like this. I think about Stad’s residents every day; their questions, concerns and involvement. The same applies to the project partners, ministries and supervisors. I’ll do everything in my power to ensure this project is on the right track and that we, despite the changes in politics and management, can guarantee it will work for the next 15 years.”
De Smet: “The entire fossil economy certainly wasn’t built in a day at the time. You need visionaries for that. And people who are willing to persevere, as the smallest setback can mean the difference between progress or stagnation. I’d be more than happy just to form a very small part of that.” He feels the conclusion is simple: “We need to switch across to more sustainable energy sources now if we, as a human race, want to move forward. The storage of electricity by means of hydrogen plays an essential role in this.”

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Rotterdam Europe’s Hydrogen Hub

To read more about Rotterdam as Europe’s Hydrogen Hub and the forerunners who make Rotterdam Europe’s Hydrogen Hub, go to Rotterdam Europe’s Hydrogen Hub.

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