‘With our sustainable training ship, we are putting Rotterdam on the map internationally

  • Contenttype:
    • Interview
  • Themes:
    • Innovation
    • Maritime
    • Technology

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. Richard van der Straaten and Yme Dikkerboom of educator STC Group (Scheepvaart en Transport College) are committed to future human capital; personnel prepared for green shipping.

The Hydro Generation STC
Richard van der Straaten, STC – © Eric Fecken

‘The first hydrogen-powered inland waterway vessels are coming.’ It is not a question but a fact, according to Van der Straaten. The Rotterdam-based Future Proof Shipping is a good example. The inland shipping lecturer sees a growing need from the business community. And with it, the need for specialised personnel. ‘We are one of the educators moving forward with hydrogen and many other sustainable developments.’

Ab Initio

STC Group has a secret weapon that is the envy of many an international institute. The Ab Initio: a new training ship equipped with state-of-the-art, innovative and sustainable technology. It is partly made of recycled materials and has hybrid propulsion. ‘We operate with an electric motor powered by energy from solar panels, a hydrogen cell and a battery. The ship is prepared to run entirely on hydrogen in the future,’ explains Van der Straaten.

Right now, that’s not yet possible: ‘In Brussels, they are still writing the rules, so to speak. Currently, the rule is that a hydrogen installation is only allowed on board if no “passengers” – in short, our students – are on board. That, of course, can’t work. This ship is meant to be for the students. That is why we have a fuel cell system and hydrogen storage cylinders on the foredeck. With these, we can sail emission-free for four hours. The installation itself is onshore.’ Once regulations are changed, the installation will be placed on the ship itself. Then, the Ab Initio will be able to run entirely on hydrogen.

Van der Straaten is proud of STC Group’s latest acquisition, co-funded by the City of Rotterdam: ‘In Europe, we are the first to do this. Other institutes are watching us and want to know how we do it. In Antwerp, they also want an Ab Initio.’

Hydrogen: one piece in a big puzzle

The Ab Initio has succeeded in having the latest technology on board that prepares students for a sustainable maritime future. Hydrogen is one of the puzzle pieces in that future, argues the practor of energy transition and smart industry, Yme Dikkerboom. ‘It is one of the solutions that contribute to the energy transition. It’s important to realise that hydrogen is not the holy grail, but a puzzle piece in the whole.’

According to Dikkerboom, it is essential that maritime education stays connected. ‘With over 8,000 inland waterway vessels, the Netherlands has the largest fleet in Europe. As Rotterdam, and as a training institute, we want to maintain this leading position. We do that by keeping up with the latest developments. And going for what we believe in: decarbonisation.’

Unique collaboration in Rotterdam

According to the practor, Rotterdam’s coordinated approach to collaboration is why the city is leading the way in Europe, especially regarding hydrogen. ‘It’s absolutely unique; how parties know how to find each other and give each other the confidence to enter into collaborations.’ And that collaboration between all kinds of large established parties and innovative start-ups is vital for Rotterdam as Europe’s hydrogen hub. ‘Whatever you want to do with hydrogen, you need safe storage, which means a terminal. Well, welcome to Rotterdam! You’ll find that here,’ Dikkerboom argues. ‘And we provide the human capital because all these new technologies need to be operated and maintained by technicians who understand them.’

That STC Group is fully committed to the energy transition is also evidenced by its new Sustainable Energy Technician course. ‘All the elements of the energy transition are included in this course, which is taught on the RDM site. And fortunately, we still manage to attract enough students. Mind you, at least 20,000 vacancies have to be filled in the coming years, all focused on that energy transition. We and other educators in the region work hard every day to give the new generation the right knowledge and skills.’

Big equipment is expensive

This is where ambition and reality still sometimes clash, especially financially. ‘You want to train students to become professionals in the field of hydrogen and energy transition. You need realistic setups for this, big equipment that you come across in your working life. We are now working with small setups because fuel cells are incredibly expensive. Financial support is, therefore, always needed. If you want to train students properly, the equipment has to have a realistic look and feel.’

For now, STC Group is leading the way with the Ab Initio, and the ship has plenty of sustainable ‘growth opportunities’. And the students are also growing towards that emission-free future every day. Dikkerboom: ‘There are a number of them who very much want a green job. Some come from a fossil company and decide to “switch” to green. You have to respond to that as an educator.’ Van der Straaten adds: ‘I see that students’ awareness of this plays more of a role than when I started. The prevailing feeling is ‘we all have to do it’. Therefore, I see an ambassador role for some students: those who will drive awareness and action. That’s great to see.’

High time for pioneering

They themselves also feel part of the Hydro Generation: the people who are seizing the opportunity to accelerate the energy transition in Rotterdam. ‘I am now a grandfather and when I see that little guy running around, I wonder what kind of world he will face. It’s important to pass on this planet in a better state. And the fact is: fossil resources are running out. We have to do something, now,’ Dikkerboom argues. Van der Straaten concurs. ‘It’s high time. We are the generation that has to pick it up. Hopefully, we’ll grab a slice of that fresh air and a reduction in lung diseases ourselves. I want to enthuse others to be pioneers. To invest in the future and take risks. And let’s pull together in that renewal.’

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Please contact Lieuwe Brouwer: lm.brouwer@rotterdam.nl

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