‘The hydrogen filling station will allow Rotterdam to develop as the maritime heart of the future’
The future of hydrogen lies in Rotterdam. Because that is precisely where the Hydro Generation sees and seizes opportunities to make history. The Hydro Generation is a group of pioneers who see Rotterdam as the place to achieve innovative CO2-neutral solutions. This includes, to name but one, Maarten Fonteijn, who worked together with Enviu to design and create the world’s very first hydrogen-powered water taxi.
Fonteijn can enjoy ‘proof’ of his contribution to Rotterdam’s energy transition from his living room window every Saturday morning. As that’s when the very first hydrogen-powered water taxi, the MSTX 22, passes by in the Leuvehaven. “That’s quite an incredible sight, because it’s so tangible. This allows us to visibly work towards zero-emission shipping,” a smiling Fonteijn tells us, who is the Mobility Programme Manager at Enviu’s ‘venture building studio’.
Getting closer to our vision
This is what both he and his company are aiming for every single day: taking concrete steps towards that sustainable transition. “It goes without saying long-term visions are important, but we sometimes appear to forget to look at the here and now: what can be done about making shipping more sustainable and getting closer to that vision right now? The water taxi is an excellent example of this.” The motto is to start small, as a project can grow and develop from there. “The hydrogen taxi was initiated by Enviu to demonstrate the fact this is a safe and operational mode of transport. And to inspire others.”
After all, what could possibly be more iconic for Rotterdam than a water taxi? So plenty of reasons for Enviu, which develops sustainable innovations and business models, to decide to pay Watertaxi Rotterdam a visit back in 2019. Fonteijn: “They had the exact same questions and ambitions where the maritime transition was concerned.” And so the companies decided to join forces, together with hydrogen fuel cell developer Zepp Solutions and maritime innovation agency Flying Fish. “We had initially planned to test the technology on an old boat, but Watertaxi Rotterdam eventually decided to invest in a new water taxi, which we were able to design based entirely on hydrogen, with an adapted cooling system.”
Do what really shouldn’t be possible
The consortium was confronted with quite a number of issues during the development of the new boat. “Of course that’s to be expected when you innovate. It’s all quite scary and new; a new fuel in a densely populated area. It really shouldn’t have been possible based purely on the regulations. But fortunately we managed to get the right experts on board.” We were able to find scope for the project within the regulations aimed at conventional fuels by continuously coordinating with important parties, like the Port of Rotterdam Authority, the DCMR and the Rotterdam Security Region.
Fonteijn felt the real key to success was bringing the right people together at the right time. “You naturally have an exemplary role as a forerunner. If things go wrong, you’re instantly miles away from the ultimate goal. And it’s a common goal, because the fact remains we simply have to get rid of fossil fuels. The authorities also know and want that. So how are we going to make that happen? That was the starting point during the various different discussions.”
Safety was thereby always the most important subject. “Looking at what’s possible within the accepted standards, without suffering any delays as a result of European rules and at least as safe as existing shipping fuels. How are we going to organise that?” The answer turned out to be a hydrogen water taxi for up to 12 people, because that’s covered by national authorities in terms of regulations.
A need for a hydrogen filling station
Finding the right location for a hydrogen installation to fill the boat and other vessels, like the STC Group’s Ab Initio, proved to be another obstacle. “We still have a great deal to learn about how hydrogen should be used in a port area. A hydrogen ‘filling station’ is therefore quite a daunting task. Hebo Maritime Service is familiar with the storage of hazardous fuels and is happy to contribute to setting up a temporary installation on their quay”, Fonteijn explains.
But there’s no doubt in his mind that a fully functioning hydrogen filling station should form an essential part of the ‘European hydrogen hub’. “This is going to be a real necessity if Rotterdam wants to develop where sustainable shipping is concerned. Not just from a practical perspective, but also to motivate others to take the same step. The lower the threshold, the better.”
Enviu and partners were supported by all manner of different parties during their project, including the City of Rotterdam and the Port Authority. “In addition to granting us subsidies, we certainly also noticed how incredibly committed they were, how they managed to establish all the right contacts and also clearly thought along with us about how to get it all done. The hydrogen water taxi is now an international example, partly as a result of this support,” says Fonteijn.
After Spain, Germany and Tanzania, Fonteijn has chosen Rotterdam as the place where he wants to work on a sustainable future. “It’s the maritime heart of Europe and just happens to be my home town too. No American wind and solar farm can compete with that.” He’s fully expecting the Hydro Generation to rise up and take action. “The fossil generation is definitely dying out. Everyone’s effectively thinking along and fully understands it simply has to be done; developing a sustainable future, with hydrogen as an important element.”
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