Air Liquide – “Hydrogen is crucial to decarbonization, so we’re looking to scale it up massively”




Air Liquide – “Hydrogen is crucial to decarbonization, so we’re looking to scale it up massively”.


The Port of Rotterdam is decarbonizing

The Port of Rotterdam is the biggest in Europe, with an annual throughput of 467 million tonnes (in 2022), no less. The port is also Europe’s largest energy hub. Randolf Weterings is Program Manager Electrification & Hydrogen New Business at the port. He knows, more than anyone, the challenges of decarbonizing the port and energy hub.


Weterings, said:


The Port of Rotterdam is an important gateway for goods and energy coming in to northwest Europe.


“As an example, the port handles 13% of Europe’s total energy needs. The port itself is quite extensive, too. In an area 42 km long, and between 2 and 5 km wide there are some 3,000 companies. You could say that decarbonizing the whole thing is quite a challenge.”


Areas for decarbonization


“We started our practical planning for decarbonization in 2016, based on four concerns: efficiency and infrastructure, a new energy system, a new resource and fuel system, and sustainable transportation. On infrastructure, we want to make sure all the facilities are in place for decarbonization: a bigger and more robust electricity grid and sufficient hydrogen, CO2, heat, and steam networks.”


“The new energy system revolves around renewable energy sources, but also includes electrifying industry and expanding the hydrogen programme. We see hydrogen both as an energy source and as a building block for the raw materials transition. The great advantage of hydrogen from renewable sources, such as wind power, lies in the fact that the hydrogen is carbon-free and it’s also a means of transporting and storing renewable energy.”


“The new resource and fuel system is about building bio-based industries and establishing a circular economy. And sustainable transportation means using clean fuel for ships and trucks going to and from Rotterdam.”


Hydrogen: scaling up is the message


“Hydrogen is one of the building blocks crucial to decarbonization, so we’re looking to massively scale up its use. We’re talking about both low-carbon hydrogen and renewable hydrogen, because we can’t limit ourselves – certainly not in the short term – to just one or the other. We aim to be able to produce 0.6 million tonnes of climate-neutral hydrogen locally every year by 2030 and import a further 4 million tonnes a year on top of that.” 


“In terms of our local production by 2030, we’re planning on half a million tonnes of low-carbon hydrogen and a quarter of a million tonnes of renewable hydrogen. We’ll get 0.2 million tonnes by capturing CO2 emissions from existing hydrogen plants and storing it safely in underground gas fields. The Porthos Carbon Transport & Storage project is going to make that happen. In October 2023, Porthos made the final decision to invest in it and the first raw materials for Porthos construction have already been delivered. We expect it to be up and running in two years.”


“The remaining 0.3 million tonnes of low-carbon hydrogen are going to come from the H-Vision project: residual gases from industry, to be converted to hydrogen in the future.”


Renewable hydrogen


The quarter of a million tonnes of renewable hydrogen will be produced using electrolysers, located in a ‘conversion park’ in the Maasvlakte, where Air Liquide is planning to construct a 200 MW-capacity electrolyser. 


“But, we’ve started building a second conversion park because we want to have between 2 and 2.5 gigawatt hydrogen capacity by 2030. We’re making the second conversion park site available to whichever party or consortium wins the IJmuiden Ver wind farm tender. The renewable electricity from the wind farm can then be used to produce renewable hydrogen on a large scale.”


“It’s impossible to produce renewable hydrogen using electrolysers without renewable electricity, which is why producers need this kind of power procurement contract. By the way, this approach is in line with the new European rules around renewable hydrogen. Not only that, it’s an efficient way to integrate wind power optimally into the energy system. And by planning hydrogen production on the coast, we avoid extra load on the high-voltage grid. That’s why the ministry encourages this approach.” 


“We reckon on having around 20 to 25 gigawatts of green energy from offshore wind turbines available in Rotterdam by 2050 for the production of renewable hydrogen on-shore, or where the hydrogen is already produced on-site at the wind turbines themselves. That 20 to 25 gigawatts is also the maximum we can achieve initially, because we also need wind energy to replace coal-fired power plants, and we don’t have any space left to install more wind turbines. Given all the other activities in the North Sea, at some point it will just be full.”




In north-western Europe, we cannot generate enough renewable energy to produce the hydrogen we need, and so we have to import much of it anyway. For the Port of Rotterdam, we estimate some 18 million tonnes per year by 2050. To achieve this, the port is currently in talks with more than 20 countries. Aside from the geopolitical situation, the price of renewable energy is the decisive factor. As a rule, the price in countries with better solar and wind conditions is lower than here.


There are a number of long-distance hydrogen transport carriers, each with their strengths and weaknesses. But, given the short time left to meet the 2030 targets, we will have to rely mainly on ammonia until then, since the technology for this is already widely available. In the Port of Rotterdam, meanwhile, nine terminals have already announced that they will import hydrogen, and six have committed to ammonia.


“For renewable hydrogen produced within the EU, there’s now a certification system that means producers can prove that their hydrogen is 100% renewable. But for hydrogen imported from outside the EU, the certification schemes aren’t yet fully in alignment. But, the Hydrogen Council – the Port of Rotterdam Authority and Air Liquide are members – has already got initial agreement on this at the last COP28 climate summit.”




In late 2023, Hynetwork Services (editor’s note: a subsidiary of Gasunie, the Dutch gas infrastructure company) put the first spade in the ground to build the national hydrogen network. Starting in 2030, this network should connect the main industrial regions of the Netherlands with each other, Belgium, and Germany. The first section could be commissioned as early as 2025, connecting the Maasvlakte to Pernis.


“We also need a more robust and better equipped electricity grid. That’s why Tennet, the grid operator, are building a new high-voltage substation, among other installations, on the Maasvlakte. This will assist the progress of all those large-scale offshore wind projects and the planned electrolysers.”


“Air Liquide is an important partner for us, partly because they’re a pioneer and an accelerating force making the port more sustainable, especially around hydrogen. Air Liquide operates several production units and the company has a lot of infrastructure. We anticipate that Air Liquide will also play a major role in importing and handling hydrogen. With their knowledge and experience, Air Liquide can also help other parties in the port make the switch to hydrogen.”


From talking the talk to walking the walk


“The time for just talk is thankfully over. There’s now a real move from talking to doing. You notice that once the government takes important decisions, things gain momentum.”


“When the Green Deal was first mooted, a number of key players took the decision early to start working with hydrogen. Air Liquide was one of those frontrunners. They knew then that hydrogen is necessary for decarbonization and so they built up a healthy lead.”



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