‘You can create support for the ammonia chain by working together more often, and more effectively, as companies.’

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

The future of hydrogen lies in Rotterdam. That’s because the Hydro Generation – a group of forerunners in the energy transition – sees Rotterdam as the ultimate place to realise innovative solutions. It attracts large international companies, like Air Products, while simultaneously also being the perfect breeding ground for relatively young companies that are taking major strides in the transition towards a clean industry, such as Proton Ventures. Proton’s CEO Paul Baan speaks to Paul Hoogeveen, General Manager at Air Products, about ammonia’s role in the energy transition.

a portret of Proton’s CEO Paul Baan speaking to Paul Hoogeveen, General Manager at Air Products, about ammonia’s role in the energy transition at the site of Air Products
© Eric Fecken

Air Products is an American multinational that has been active in the energy market, among others, for more than 80 years. The company develops, designs, builds, owns and operates some of the world’s largest industrial gas and carbon capture projects. The company also supplies clean hydrogen across the world.
Proton Ventures has been active in the green ammonia chain since 2001. This company designs various green ammonia solutions worldwide, from sustainable production to the storage of large volumes.

Both Air Products and Proton Ventures use ammonia to transport hydrogen. Air Products actually produces green ammonia itself. Proton designs and realises ammonia installations which are used right around the world. Why did you opt to use this connection? “Importing large quantities of hydrogen is absolutely essential if we really want to move towards a (heavy) industry which runs on renewable energy in Rotterdam and the rest of the country. It’s simply not possible to produce this ourselves; even if we were to fill the entire North Sea with wind turbines,” according to Baan.

“There’s an abundance of wind and sun in North Africa and the Middle East. This is converted into green energy, which you can then use to make green hydrogen. We convert the green hydrogen into ammonia to allow us to transport it. We then transport it to Northern Europe and, once there, convert the ammonia back into hydrogen. This has been proven to be the most efficient, safest and most affordable way of transporting hydrogen,” Hoogeveen adds.

Temporary solution

Even though both companies are heavily investing in ammonia, the General Manager thinks that using it as a hydrogen carrier is only going to be a temporary solution. “We really want to find a way whereby we can directly transport hydrogen without needing to convert it first. For example, via a pipeline. Something like this already exists, but these are currently only gas transport pipelines. Realising a sufficiently developed infrastructure will take at least 20 to 30 years.”

Using ammonia as a hydrogen carrier requires millions in investments. So is that worth it if it’s only a temporary solution? Hoogeveen asks a rhetorical question: “Can we wait any longer?” Baan adds: “Make no mistake: 2030 is just around the corner, even 2040 is seen as fairly short-term. And it’s abundantly clear something needs to be put in motion today.”

Both are convinced ammonia will remain valuable, for example, for the storage of hydrogen. “And just look at Namibia; there’s enormous energy potential over there, but of course there’s no way we’re going to be able to lay a pipeline from there to Northern Europe. It’s simply too far away. So, there will be a hybrid infrastructure, whereby sea transport will continue to play an important role. And therefore probably ammonia too,” says Hoogeveen. “The positive effect of this transition is that areas with a great deal of wind and sun, such as West and South Africa, will experience great economic benefits,” Baan adds.


Ammonia as a hydrogen carrier is still a regular topic of discussion, as it’s a dangerous substance. A TNO report states new legislation and regulations must soon be introduced in order to keep everything safe. According to Baan: “One thing that’s missing from this report is the fact that there are professional steering groups, as well as, for example, a committee (PSG12) which analyses safety standards. We are working on this with various parties and keeping a very close eye on it. It goes without saying the safety aspect applies to all chemicals you find in the industry.”

Both feel the report shows a misrepresentation of reality. And that certainly doesn’t help with the general public’s acceptance of ammonia as a hydrogen carrier. At the same time, this is also an important part of the process of working towards a more sustainable industry, argue Baan and Hoogeveen. “There are all kinds of cowboy stories, which makes you realise there are many people out there who really don’t understand exactly what the ammonia chain entails. This simply has to change, as public unrest is going to cause delays,” according to Baan.

Hoogeveen wholeheartedly agrees with this. “It goes without saying we need to be very careful not to instantly dismiss opinions as nonsense. Which therefore makes providing the correct information absolutely essential. Our companies can collaborate more on that front too, for example, by organising residents’ meetings together and creating public support. It’s an undeniable fact that people in industrial areas have been dealing with hazardous goods for decades. These were, and still are, just as much of a risk. The decrease in fossil fuels, partly due to the use of ammonia, has also resulted in a reduction in the safety risks associated with fossil substances. It will actually result in higher levels of safety in the long term.”

‘Wait and see’ situation

Public opinion is not, however, the reason why importing ammonia can often be difficult. Hoogeveen: “There’s a huge amount of potential, but the lack of clear regulations makes it very difficult. How do we deal with the energy infrastructure in Europe? How is green hydrogen going to end up on the market, who’s going to buy it and what is it going to cost? There’s also no FiD – final investment decision – yet, which keeps many companies from getting involved.” But on the other hand, Air Products is now working on Europe’s largest hydrogen factory, in Rotterdam. Proton Ventures’ CEO certainly appreciates that. “Air Products is a good example of my own off-take: I’m just going to go ahead and build! But, of course, you have to be able to afford that. We’re in desperate need of some more of these first movers.”

But Baan definitely feels we’re in a kind of ‘wait and see’ situation at the moment. Proton Ventures prepared around 25 business cases related to green hydrogen last year, but no one really wants to get started until the policy offers more clarity. For example, in relation to subsidies or other incentives to compensate for price differences. “We believe that take-offs should be initiated from Europe or the Netherlands in order to get the market moving. This is going to involve significant investments, and there’s now ever-increasing pressure to become more sustainable, too, but meanwhile, hardly any green molecule purchase contracts have been signed. A financier would undoubtedly say: you don’t have any customers, so where’s your price guarantee? This means you’re never going to get the finance in place,” Baan explains.

“I do partly share that concern, but Air Products is genuinely confident that European legislation will start creating a market for green hydrogen. It’s of vital importance for us to maintain a stable, long-term route from a policy perspective, and to avoid a situation where changes are introduced every 3 years. It simply needs to be predictable, consistent and professional.” Baan nods and adds: “A change of course can be fatal for investment decisions. It can result in great distrust.”

‘Rotterdam is definitely the first choice’

Both companies are setting their own course in Rotterdam, full of confidence in the future. And why here, exactly? Hoogeveen: “That’s not really a question. Rotterdam is definitely the first choice. It offers the classic advantages: excellent infrastructure, a deep-water port, an effectively explored industrial area and a large hinterland. These benefits certainly also apply in this new energy era.” Baan adds: “The port of Rotterdam is very supportive. But it goes without saying that we also need to look at developing other locations, possibly supported by Rotterdam, in order for us to be able to import all the green energy we need in the future.”

Hoogeveen says that Rotterdam being the ultimate place to realise innovative energy solutions isn’t even up for discussion. As well as the fact that he feels part of the Hydro Generation. “I’ve actually formed part of the Hydro Generation all my life,” he laughs. “My career started more than 30 years ago, with a project in which we tried to run a city bus on liquid hydrogen for the first time. That was way before its time. And now it’s finally time for us to turn this transition into a reality. I can’t wait!”

Proton Ventures’ CEO Baan actually made a successful career for himself in the traditional oil and gas field: “I genuinely love the fact that I can play a role in this transition. And especially witnessing how passionate the younger employees are. It’s inspiring to work on this with a younger generation, who are truly driven to do things differently. Simply fantastic!”

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.

Want to meet the Hydro Generation?

Curious about Rotterdam’s journey with regard to hydrogen? Would you like to meet the Hydro Generation?

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

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