© BP
Author profile picture

The Dutch government has great ambitions for hydrogen. The National Hydrogen Program demonstrates that the government wants to go all-out for hydrogen as the energy system of the future. But how is our hydrogen society and economy faring? In the summer series ‘The Netherlands, Hydrogen Land’, we discuss the current state of affairs with technicians and scientists on the basis of themes from the National Hydrogen Programme. In the fifth installment: The cooperation between the Netherlands and Germany. Read the whole series here


The National Hydrogen Program

At the beginning of July, the National Hydrogen Program (NWP) was presented to the Secretary of State by the cross-sectoral working group hydrogen (CSWW). CSWW is a collaboration between 19 organizations. The program stems from the government’s National Climate Agreement. The cabinet’s vision for hydrogen contains the policy agenda in which the central government’s commitment is laid out further. The period up to and including 2021 is the preparatory phase for the actual scaling up and roll-out of hydrogen from 2022 onwards. The second phase of the NWP – which is actually the real start – Is set to commence on 1 January 2022.

While the Netherlands announced its hydrogen strategy last month, Germany had already done so a year earlier. Our neighboring country has set aside nine billion euros to build a hydrogen infrastructure with a capacity of five gigawatts over the next ten years. To help paint a picture of this, that corresponds to the capacity of ten nuclear power plants. The hydrogen strategy of the industrial state of North Rhine-Westphalia specifies that the region plans to import half of its hydrogen from the Netherlands. Cooperation between the Netherlands and Germany in the field of hydrogen is therefore inevitable..

So far Germany is the only country that the Netherlands has entered into a concrete bilateral cooperation with. And that while the NWP is clear in stating that hydrogen is an international theme – the international strategy is part of the Dutch approach and the Netherlands is participating in a number of international projects. However, the NWP is not much more specific on this subject than ‘consultations are being held with other member states‘. Bilateral cooperation with countries such as Belgium, France and Norway is still in an ‘exploratory phase‘.

Bilateral cooperation

Hydrogen is a subject that can bring the Netherlands and Germany together. That is according to René Peters, Director of Gas Technology at the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO). “Both countries have a long history when it comes to fuel imports and transits. Think about coal, oil and natural gas. Hopefully we can add green hydrogen to that list soon.” In Peters’ view, it is important for both countries to make hydrogen a success, Along with the cooperation. The Netherlands as an import port for Germany and as an important transit and transport country. Plus, Germany needs to decarbonize its industry. Hydrogen is the best option for much of this heavy industry.

Richard van de Sanden, scientific director of Eindhoven Institute for Renewable Energy Systems (EIRES) and the Dutch Institute for Renawable Energy Systems (DIFFER), also sees cooperation between the Netherlands and Germany as a key aspect of our hydrogen strategy. “Germany is our big brother. They presented a nine billion euro hydrogen strategy last year and are aiming to be the world leader in hydrogen technology by 2050.”

On the one hand, German industry needs green hydrogen in order to meet its climate targets, but on the other hand, it also has the ambition to become the supplier of all the technology surrounding hydrogen. This ambition is also set out in the NWP. Yet according to Van de Sanden, the Netherlands needs to put a lot more effort into this. “In the Netherlands, the emphasis is mainly on becoming CO2 neutral. While a huge hydrogen industry is emerging now. Everything has to start with electricity in the future, and you should want to be a major player in that too. The Netherlands would do well to have the aspiration to become the ASML of the hydrogen industry.”

Exchanging knowledge

Earlier this year, Van de Sanden, as chair of the Platform ElectroChemical Conversion and Materials, issued Van ‘t Wout (former Dutch Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy) a ‘call to action’. Germany and the Netherlands are set to cooperate bilaterally with an innovative approach to green hydrogen and chemistry. According to Van de Sanden, the cooperation will bear fruit primarily in terms of knowledge. “Contrary to what you read in the news, we are still at the same level in the field of electrolysers as where we were twenty years ago with solar cells. The large-scale production of hydrogen and everything that comes with it, is something that we still have to learn an awful lot about. That’s why it’s good that we are working together and can learn from each other. Not just in the industry, but also on the knowledge side of things.”

Van de Sanden sees hydrogen as an intermediary rather than an end station for a lot of applications. “Looking ahead to 2030, I see that we will soon be able to make better, more selective electrochemical processes, where we skip the hydrogen step. Then you can make ammonia directly from water and some other feedstock. In other processes, such as synthetic fuels, hydrogen will continue to be needed, but not everywhere.”

In that respect, Van de Sanden believes that the Netherlands and Germany are a perfect match. “Both Germany and the Netherlands have an enormous amount of knowledge in house. We can carry out very interesting research together.”

The German hydrogen strategy: a summary

  • Develop national electrolysis capacity for green hydrogen to 5 GW by 2030 and 10 GW by 2040.
  • Funding for the strategy is €9 billion, of which €7 billion is reserved for national measures, and the remaining amount for international collaborations.
  • The German government is appointing a ‘Waterstoffrat‘: an advisory committee for departments that are involved and a special representative for hydrogen innovation.
  • The strategy clearly indicates European ambitions. Agreements are made on sustainability criteria and quality standards for hydrogen, the establishment of hydrogen as an IPCEI (Important Project of Common European interest) and the creation of a European hydrogen agency.

HY3 project

Another concrete example of bilateral cooperation is the HY3 project. This is where the Netherlands and Germany are jointly investigating the feasibility of a transnational value chain for green hydrogen. That chain extends to the industrial clusters located in the border area of the Netherlands and North Rhine-Westphalia. The research is a trilateral task of the Netherlands, Germany and the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

TNO is representing the Netherlands within this project and René Peters, Director of Gas Technology at TNO, is the initiator. “North Rhine-Westphalia anticipates needing between 70 and 160 terrawatt hours of hydrogen annually by 2050. If half of that has to come from the Netherlands, then that is where a huge demand is created.” The difference between 70 and 160 terrawatts is considerable – which, according to Peters, is also where a great deal of uncertainty immediately arises. It depends on how the use of hydrogen is picked up in the largest markets: Heavy transport and industry. “If it’s not picked up there, demand is more likely to be at the lower end of that range.”

Three important conclusions

For HY3, TNO looked at smart ways of reusing existing gas pipeline infrastructure and storing hydrogen in salt caverns. The official report has yet to appear, but Peters can already share three important conclusions. First of all, if the Netherlands wants to be able to meet demand, it will have to rely on imports. We cannot meet the demand from Germany with wind energy alone. A second conclusion is that, for the time being, the existing infrastructure of pipelines has enough capacity to transport the hydrogen to the German (and Dutch) industrial clusters. “But, if you look beyond 2030, the capacity is not adequate. The direct pipeline between Rotterdam and North Rhine-Westphalia is not strong enough, so in time that could become a bottleneck.”

Salt caverns

In order to guarantee a constant supply of hydrogen, it is important to be able to store it safely. Salt caverns are a solution, a cavity in a thick layer of salt that prevents the hydrogen from leaking through. “In one salt cavern, you could store up to 250 gigawatt hours of energy. That’s a huge amount. A third conclusion from the research we did for HY3 is that with salt caverns, we can facilitate enough storage to balance out the system.” But those X number of salt caverns still need to be built.

Peters is mostly positive. The conversion of infrastructure, the capacity, the storage – that’s not where the problems lie. The biggest uncertainty, he says, is in the costs. “Hydrogen really needs to become cheaper. There eventually has to be a company that is willing to pay for green hydrogen. That will still be more expensive than grey hydrogen for some time to come.”

Got interested? Read the whole series here.

Or check our hydrogen dossier