At Groningen Airport Eelde, a northern Dutch consortium is going to produce green hydrogen via its own electrolyzer to provide light aircraft, drones and ground equipment with sustainable energy. Within this project, called WAviatER, northern Dutch companies and knowledge institutes are teaming up to establish the industrial production of electrolyzers in the Netherlands. It was recently announced that the partnership will receive €3.5 million in funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
The northern Netherlands is recognized by Europe as an important center for the development of hydrogen technology, which has declared the region a Hydrogen Valley. Groningen Airport Eelde is also taking several initiatives which revolve around making airports and aviation more sustainable. The airport is home to, among other things, a 22MW solar park, which the WAviatER project can now use to generate green hydrogen.
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Urgency to go green
Toon Hermans, managing director of Demcon energy systems, also thinks Groningen Airport Eelde is the ideal location to make a start with the technology. “In the northern Netherlands, organizations and companies are feeling the urgency to go green. In a short time we’ve managed to get a lot of parties on board who can make a relevant contribution. We’ve landed at the right place at the right time with the right people.” Demcon leads the consortium, which also comprises Groningen Airport Eelde, Douna Machinery Leeuwarden, JB Besturingstechniek, REDStack, New Energy Coalition and the University of Groningen.
The partnership centers on the actual development of concrete products. “Lots of subsidies are being given to stimulate good ideas surrounding sustainable energy. But if we really want to achieve something and accelerate the energy transition, factories have to be built. I’m really pleased that we’re going to work on the production of green hydrogen in this project,” Hermans says.
Avoiding scarce metals
The electrolyzer at Groningen Airport Eelde uses green electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The project is avoiding the use of scarce metals, such as platinum, iridium and palladium. “Many of the scarce metals used for electrolyzers and batteries are becoming increasingly more expensive over the years. Therefore, we only use nickel for our electrodes.”
At present, green hydrogen is not yet competitive enough with natural gas-based production of ‘grey’ hydrogen. Consequently, an important goal of the project is to make the production of green hydrogen cheaper.
REDstack in Sneek, one of the companies that joined the consortium, is a specialist in sustainable energy production by means of a ‘membrane process’. This involves the controlled mixing of salt and fresh water in so-called stacks to generate electrical energy. The production technology that the company develops for its stacks is also suitable for the fabrication of stacks for electrolyzers. Hermans: “It has got to be efficient and very cheap. Solutions like this make the large-scale production of green hydrogen affordable. We are also looking very closely in this project at the composition of components and at assembly techniques in order to keep production costs as low as possible.”
Independence from foreign countries
Hermans is convinced that the Netherlands needs to invest in a national hydrogen ecosystem in order to keep up with the energy transition. “The transition is going so fast at the moment that electrolyzers will soon be in short supply. We rely too much on energy from other countries. But if we want to be assured of enough supplies, we must become independent. This consortium is a step in the right direction.”
The project will run until October 2023; by then there must be an operational plant at Groningen Airport Eelde. Initially, the green hydrogen produced in the project is intended for on-site use. “In follow-up projects, we can reprocess the hydrogen and make it suitable for use in transportation and elsewhere by means of high-pressure technology. From a broader perspective, this is just the first step in the northern Netherlands towards establishing an ecosystem of companies that will develop products for the hydrogen economy.”