The Netherlands create first nationwide hydrogen network

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By 2031, the Dutch government will repurpose large portions of its natural gas infrastructure to create the first national hydrogen network in the world.

A scheme of this nature may not be easily reproducible in many areas, but it will continue to create the groundwork for global hydrogen commerce and an expanded hydrogen economy.

Rob Jetten, the country’s minister for Climate and Energy, revealed the initiative at the end of June, outlining the creation of a nationwide transport network for hydrogen costing €750 million. According to Rethink Energy, around 85 percent of the network would consist of recycled natural gas pipes, which will become accessible when the nation’s gas consumption peaks between 2026 and 2028.

The concept is to utilize a portion of the 20 GW of planned or under construction wind farms in the Dutch North Sea by 2030, with 500 MW of electrolysis capacity to create hydrogen in 2025 and 3.5 GW by 2030. The network will then connect important industrial hubs, construct hydrogen storage facilities, and connect to nearby hydrogen networks.

Seaports and significant industrial clusters that want to become hydrogen hubs in the future, as well as key geological hydrogen storage sites, will be the primary nodes to link. To assist the future trade of hydrogen within Europe, connections with the German regions of Ruhr and Hamburg, as well as Belgium, are being proposed.

The initial sections of the national network, located in the north of the country and connecting to northern Germany, are anticipated to be operational by 2025. Several industrial clusters in the IJmond and Rijnmond areas should also have hydrogen pipeline segments in place, which will be linked in the coming years.

Gasunie, which is controlled in equal parts by the Dutch government and Shell and ExxonMobil, will move its attention to a TSO role in the country’s hydrogen industry, including the administration of storage and imports.

With ambitious ambitions for hydrogen generation at North Sea wind farms, Gasunie may also become an offshore grid operator.

Han Fennema, the CEO of Gasunie, stated, “Gasunie is quite optimistic about the hydrogen initiatives unveiled by Minister Jetten today. We believe hydrogen will play a significant role in the future as an energy carrier. The creation of a public hydrogen network in the Netherlands will provide a significant boost to the transition to a more sustainable energy system.

Utilizing aging natural gas infrastructure also gives a considerably more economical and nimble path to expansion. Recent Irena study indicates that repurposed pipes will be between 65 to 94 percent less expensive than new hydrogen-specific pipelines, mostly owing to the reduced amount of excavation work necessary.

In most situations, it is possible to repurpose these pipes, which are predominantly constructed of steel, by adding new valves to modify the working pressure. There is no need for compressors because the hydrogen will be supplied to the network at the necessary pressure. Gasunie asserts that it has conducted many experiments to demonstrate that this is viable, and a 12-kilometer repurposed pipeline is now operational in the south of the Netherlands.

The Yara-Dow pipeline was inaugurated in 2018, connecting the facilities of Dow Chemical Benelux in Terneuzen with Norwegian ammonia manufacturer Yara in Sluiskil.

The popular fallacy is that hydrogen’s energy density, which is around one-third that of natural gas, will make it difficult to supply the same amount of electricity through the existing system. However, hydrogen can be given at flow velocities nearly three times greater, offsetting this and indicating that the decrease in energy transfer capacity owing to a modest increase in pressure losses is negligible.

In the Netherlands, the logistical simplicity of converting such pipes is primarily down to Gasunie’s “strong and contemporary” network for high-pressure natural gas. Seven parallel gas pipelines now connect industrial districts in the north and south of the nation.

As demand for natural gas decreases and demand for hydrogen increases, the Netherlands may repurpose each of these pipelines one at a time, with minimal disturbance to the country’s energy infrastructure.

Other nations with more centralized gas distribution systems will struggle with this method. While they can mix up to 20 percent hydrogen into existing gas pipes, anything beyond this requires a complete upgrade to 100 percent hydrogen and the deletion of natural gas from the pipeline.

Therefore, the Netherlands can blend up to 14 percent hydrogen before converting one pipeline to 100 percent hydrogen and reverting the remainder to 100 percent natural gas and repeating the process.

In contrast, Italy’s northeastern area, which has three parallel pipelines, would have to make a more abrupt 33 percent conversion from natural gas to hydrogen in its network. Poland and Germany are among the nations facing a comparable predicament.

In these nations, the switch to hydrogen may need the construction of additional pipelines. However, one alternative is to attempt to boost the 20 percent blending maximum. Other operational enhancements, such as enhanced motors, turbines, and piston compressors, can increase the blending limit to 40 percent, permitting a low rate that is three times larger than that required for 100 percent natural gas, according to a paper issued by Siemens Energy last year. Deblending technology, like as that being developed by Costain, will also be needed to separate hydrogen from natural gas for network end users.

Nedim Husomanovic

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