Hydrogen (H₂) is the most abundant element in the universe. To be able to use it, you have to extract it from components that contain hydrogen elements, such as water (H₂O) and methane (CH₄), which we generally know as natural gas.
There are numerous production methods that enable us to extract hydrogen from such compounds, but they, as you would expect, are both costly and require a lot of energy. Besides, the production of hydrogen from fossil fuels is a process that involves carbon emissions. If you store the carbon dioxide released during this process, the hydrogen produced is called ‘blue hydrogen’. This is a solution that is available today to reduce carbon emissions. In the long term, however, we have to move towards green hydrogen wherever we can.
Electrolysis with green power
NortH2 is all about the production, storage and transmission of green hydrogen from green power, without carbon emissions or any other unwanted by-products. The green hydrogen will be produced by bringing water into contact with the green power generated offshore in a process that is called electrolysis, which involves splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen.
Proven in practice
To prove this production method in practice, Gasunie started HyStock, a serious market test at its Zuidwending site near the town of Veendam, which was opened by King Willem Alexander in the summer of 2019. With 1 megawatt of green hydrogen production capacity, HyStock is currently still the Netherlands’ largest electrolysis plant. Although fantastic and a great learning opportunity as a serious market pilot, 1 megawatt pales into insignificance compared to the 3 to 4 gigawatts of production capacity that the Netherlands has to reach by mid-2030 to achieve the climate goals.
Next, a substantial study was launched into the construction of electrolysis plants with a capacity of 1GW, which would multiply HyStock’s capacity by a thousand. This moves us considerably closer to achieving our European climate ambitions. The intention is to build several such electrolysers for NortH2 near Eemshaven. We are also continuing to look at options for offshore electrolysis, i.e. close to the production locations of renewable energy.
The costs of these electrolysers are considerable. And as long as the scale of the plants continues to be limited, these costs will not come down quickly enough. This deadlock is what NortH2 intends to break, mainly by accelerating towards green wind power generation and electrolysis capacity on a mature scale. Market demand for carbon-neutral hydrogen also needs to be encouraged, because higher demand will result in the required price and give users the confidence they need to make the switch to hydrogen and invest in national infrastructure and storage. This is where governments have to step up. Last but not least, a lot of renewable power will be needed for carbon-neutral hydrogen production, a lot more than is currently available. This is why NortH2 is aiming for rapid expansion of (offshore) wind farms for green hydrogen production.