Hydrogen is coming home to challenge oil and gas as a local energy supply


by Tom Cassauwers

Hydrogen is carving out a place for itself in the world of renewable energies. Regional developments such as Hydrogen Valleys and Hydrogen Islands serve as models for larger ecosystems to locally produce and consume this versatile fuel.

The northern region of the Netherlands was once the main gas country. One of the largest gas fields in the world has been discovered in the province of Groningen. Extracting gas from the territory has helped fund the Netherlands for decades. But times are changing.

“Gas production is running out of steam,” said Jochem Durenkamp, ​​hydrogen project manager at New Energy Coalition. “Which would mean the north would lose a lot of jobs. Hydrogen turned out to be a perfect substitute.

With the end of gas extraction and related jobs, these northern regions are looking for alternatives. Additionally, ground shifts from gas drilling cause minor earthquakes, with 72 recorded in 2021 alone. This has significant economic repercussions, especially when it damages homes in the area. No less than 1.2 billion euros have been paid in compensation for damage caused by the earthquake since 1991.

The northern region of the Netherlands is about to become a “hydrogen valley”. The HEAVENN project, coordinated by the New Energy Coalition, is at the helm. The region is appealing for European support to develop the infrastructure needed to adopt green hydrogen as a source of locally produced energy.

The European Union has a long-term goal of 100 of these hydrogen valleys. Currently, there are 23 in Europe at different stages of development, with the ambition to double this total by 2025. Dozens of projects have started across Europe and in 20 countries around the world, in a trend of rapidly growing clean energy investment worth billions. Follow the link for a map of the Hydrogen Valleys.

The strategy consists of giving a regional economic impetus while fighting against the main driver of climate change, the combustion of fossil fuels. Eventually, when enough regions emerge, they will come together to create a large-scale hydrogen economy based on a clean and secure energy supply.

green hydrogen

The North of the Netherlands is in an ideal position to take advantage of the hydrogen opportunity. Located close to the rapidly expanding North Sea offshore wind farms, it has a direct line of renewable energy to make green hydrogen. Additionally, past gas development in the region has created a body of knowledge and skills that is easily transferable to the production, distribution, storage and consumption of hydrogen in the local economy.

The idea behind Hydrogen Valleys is to create a self-sustaining hydrogen ecosystem from start to finish. In HEAVENN’s case, it starts with identifying sites where the process of electrolysis can be used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen using electricity.

A hydrogen valley is a medium-sized area where clean hydrogen is produced locally and consumed by homes, vehicles and industry. The objective is to initiate a hydrogen economy at community level. Eventually, regional hydrogen valleys will join together to create larger hydrogen-powered economic zones.

When this electricity comes from renewable sources, such as offshore wind in the case of HEAVENN, hydrogen is considered a green energy source. Most often stored in the form of gas, this zero-emission energy vector is used to power everyday applications such as transport, heating and industry.

HEAVENN, for example, invests in hydrogen mobility projects with a number of hydrogen filling points for each type of hydrogen vehicle – from cars to trucks and buses. The hydrogen will also be used to supply a data center and to heat residential areas.

Building energy ecosystems is not easy. “The project includes thirty partners,” said Durenkamp. “It’s a big challenge to coordinate what they’re doing, but building that ecosystem is key for hydrogen.”

Beyond the partners, the local community is also an important player. “It’s very important that residents are consulted,” Durenkamp said. “Where before energy was extracted from underground, it is now very visible in the landscape with wind turbines, solar panels and large electrolysis plants. Every time something is done within the framework of the project, it is done with the local inhabitants.

Clean Energy Islands

Another region unlocking the potential of hydrogen is the Spanish island of Mallorca, which bills itself as a “hydrogen island”.

“The idea for the project came when CEMEX, a cement manufacturer, announced that it would be closing its factory in Mallorca,” said María Jaén Caparrós. She acts as the hydrogen innovation coordinator at Enagás, the transmission network operator of the national gas network in Spain. “With hydrogen, we want to reindustrialize the island and decarbonize the Balearic region.”

Called GREEN HYSLAND, the project will create an ecosystem of hydrogen producers and users across the Mediterranean island. Achieving this goal will reduce costly energy imports and eliminate harmful emissions.

At the heart of this is an electrolysis plant which produces hydrogen from the energy provided by two newly built solar power plants. This hydrogen is then used in a range of different applications in the locality. For example, the public transport company of the city of Palma de Mallorca is deploying hydrogen buses. Another use case is powering the island’s vital ferry port and even supplying power to a hotel. But community energy needs community support.

Renewable diversification

“It is essential to have the support of society,” said Jaén Caparrós. “Hydrogen is something new for the Balearic Islands. This project will not only promote reindustrialization based on renewable energies, but will also bring knowledge, research and innovation. This is an important step that the Balearic Islands must take advantage of to promote the diversification of the production model with new stable and quality jobs.

The second related objective of GREEN HYSLAND is to reduce emissions related to the use of natural gas. They will inject some of the hydrogen into the gas network, according to Jaén Caparrós. They are compatible energy sources. “We will build a hydrogen pipeline to transport it to the injection point,” he said, “which we will use to partially decarbonize the natural gas grid.” They plan to start this phase by the end of 2022.

In this way, hydrogen can be mixed with existing gas infrastructure used to heat homes, hotels and industry or generate electricity. The resulting mix of green gas and hydrogen has a lower emissions footprint than just using gas alone, a step towards full decarbonization.

Hydrogen plans

GREEN HYSLAND has even teamed up with non-European players. “We are 30 partners from 11 countries, including Morocco and Chile,” said Jaén Caparrós. “They also want to develop green hydrogen ecosystems, and hydrogen valleys have added value if we can connect with regions inside and outside Europe,” he said. she stated.

“Hydrogen valleys create new jobs, reindustrialize and create new economic activities,” said Jaén Caparrós. And in addition, they decarbonize. It serves the whole of society.

Once this infrastructure building and experimentation phase is complete, the lessons learned will also need to be scaled up. HEAVENN and GREEN HYSLAND want to share what they learn. “We want to be a model for other parts of the world,” Durenkamp concluded. “If this project is a success, we want to share it.”

The research in this article was funded by the EU. This article was originally publishedin Skylinethe european magazine for research and innovation.


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