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Q&A on Hydrogen

What is hydrogen?

Hydrogen is a chemical element that is gaseous at room temperature and at normal atmospheric pressure. It is the most abundant element in our universe and has no odour or colour. Hydrogen consists of two atoms that have been given the letter H (from Hydrogenium, the Latin name for hydrogen). It is therefore also known as H2.  

Hydrogen, when gaseous, weighs extremely little. When released into a room, it will therefore rise quickly (faster than, say, natural gas). In addition, hydrogen is also very flammable. When it burns, it creates H2O, or water. Combustion is therefore non-polluting and combustion does not create CO2 emissions. Read more about hydrogen at dewereldvanwaterstof.nl.  

How is Hydrogen made?

Everything that lives on Earth consists of hydrogen compounds and cannot do without them. But hydrogen hardly occurs here on Earth in isolated form. It is attached to other atoms, for example in water. Hydrogen can be detached from other atoms using electricity. If you put water under a current, oxygen is created at the positive end of the current (the + pole or anode). On the other side, at the negative side (the - pole or cathode), hydrogen is formed. Electricity thus decomposes water (H2O) into Hydrogen (H2) and Oxygen (O2), which we call electrolysis. The plant in which this happens is called an electrolyser. The Oxygen and Hydrogen released in the plant are collected separately.  

What is the difference between grey, blue and green hydrogen?

We distinguish between 'green', 'blue' and 'grey' hydrogen. This says nothing about the hydrogen itself. It is the same in all cases. It says something about how the hydrogen is made. Green (also called renewable) hydrogen is made with green electricity. For example, from offshore wind farms. Grey hydrogen is made using fossil fuels, such as natural gas (CH4). This releases CO2. With blue hydrogen, this released CO2 is captured and stored underground, which means a lot less CO2 is released into the air.

What are the possibilities of hydrogen?

Hydrogen is not new and is already an important feedstock for industry today. In the Netherlands, 800 kilotonnes of hydrogen is used annually as a raw material for e.g. the production of fertiliser. In addition, hydrogen can also be used as a raw material to make fuel for aircraft. In this way, it contributes to making air traffic more sustainable.  

Often, hydrogen is also used as an energy carrier. Because hydrogen can be converted into electricity, it can be used wherever electricity is needed or industry requires heat. For example, you can use it for processes in food production. In recent years, making steel with hydrogen has also become more widely known. In addition, cars and trucks that run on hydrogen already exist in the Netherlands. Read more about hydrogen at dewereldvanwaterstof.nl.

Why are we switching to hydrogen?

There are many reasons to switch to hydrogen. The most important reason is climate. To stop global warming, we need to reduce CO2 emissions. This cannot be done if we continue to use fossil fuels. Switching to green hydrogen, produced with green electricity from e.g. offshore wind farms, is also important for emissions of other substances such as nitrogen. With the energy crisis, reducing CO2 emissions and the need to reduce dependence on Russian gas and less reliable regimes in general, there are even more reasons to build a new energy system in which hydrogen plays an important role.

Is hydrogen safe?

As with all fuels, using hydrogen carries risks. There have been accidents with hydrogen in the past. The most famous is the 1937 explosion of a large Zeppelin, The Hindenburg. This has caused many people to think that hydrogen is much more dangerous than the fossil fuels we use today. It isn't. Hydrogen is about as safe as natural gas or LPG. We in the Netherlands have a lot of experience in the safe use and distribution of natural gas. We can use this knowledge to build a safe network for hydrogen as well. In many cases, with minor modifications, we can use the existing network of gas connections. In this way, an efficient switch from natural gas to hydrogen is possible.

When will hydrogen be available?

Hydrogen is being introduced step by step in the Netherlands. There are already several filling stations offering it. On an industrial scale, green hydrogen (produced with green electricity) will also be used in a few years. At the Tata Steel site, for example, work is under way on an electrolyzer that is scheduled to be able to supply the first hydrogen produced with electricity from wind turbines in the North Sea by 2025. And Shell will build Europe's largest green hydrogen plant on the Second Maasvlakte in Rotterdam.

How do we transport hydrogen?

Hydrogen can be transported in different ways. For example, by boat or truck. Hydrogen can also be transported via pipelines. To ensure that all companies have access to sufficient hydrogen, Hynetwork Services (100% subsidiary of Gasunie) will build a hydrogen network in the Netherlands. Regional networks, for example in the ports of IJmond, Amsterdam, Eemshaven and the Maasvlakte, will be connected to this national network, which will connect the industrial areas around Rotterdam, Zeeland, North Netherlands, North Sea Canal area and Limburg with each other, with hydrogen production and import and with hydrogen storage sites. This Dutch hydrogen network can in turn be connected to the German and European networks.

Who is initiating these national and regional hydrogen networks? 

Hynetwork Services (HNS) is the initiator of the national and regional hydrogen networks. HNS is a wholly owned subsidiary of N.V. Nederlandse Gasunie. For example, where now the wholly owned subsidiary Gasunie Transport Services (GTS) is responsible for the natural gas network, HNS will be responsible for the hydrogen network.

Will there also be a low-pressure hydrogen pipeline in the regions? 

Similar to the natural gas network, a distinction can also be made for the hydrogen network between a high-pressure network (developed by Gasunie) and a low-pressure network (developed by distribution system operators e.g. Alliander). In the region, Gasunie's high-pressure network will be connected to low-pressure networks. Examples of future low-pressure networks in the NZKG include H2avennet (connecting industry in the Amsterdam port area) and Zaannet (connecting industry in Zaanstad). The low-pressure networks are important for access to hydrogen infrastructure for the region.

How safe is hydrogen transport compared to natural gas?

Gasunie has a long history of safe construction and management of natural gas pipelines. In addition to government external safety standards, Gasunie also applies its own strict safety requirements.

Although the properties of natural gas and hydrogen are different, we can transport both safely through existing natural gas pipelines.

What are the advantages of hydrogen compared to sustainable electricity?

Sustainable electricity generation from solar and wind power is not always reliable. Sometimes the sun does not shine, nor does the wind blow 24 hours a day. On days with lots of sun and wind, it is possible to convert the overproduction of energy into hydrogen. This hydrogen can then be stored in large quantities and for a long period of time, for instance in underground salt caverns for later use. This creates a reliable energy system even on days with less sun and wind. There are also processes in industry where the use of electricity is not possible, e.g. because it requires substantial investments, the technology is not yet available or the electrical equipment does not produce the high temperatures reliably or at all. This is when hydrogen can offer a solution. Moreover, unlike electricity, hydrogen can be used as a feedstock. Now, hydrogen from oil or gas is often the feedstock, but this is relatively easy to replace with green hydrogen.

Will residential houses be connected to hydrogen?

For now, residential houses are not yet connected to hydrogen. Green hydrogen, produced with green electricity, is still scarce. It is important to make smart choices about where (green) hydrogen can be used. For household tasks such as heating, showering and cooking, there are already suitable sustainable alternatives, such as electric heating. See also the hydrogen ladder from Stichting Natuur en Milieu.    

It is not possible for all residential areas to switch to electricity, for instance. Therefore, there are currently a number of pilot projects where residential areas are being connected to hydrogen, such as in Hoogeveen and Stad aan 't Haringvliet and such as "The Green Village" on the TU Delft site. Gasunie is participating in some of these pilot projects as a knowledge partner.

What will people notice from the transition to hydrogen.

In the short term, not much will be seen. Residential houses, if at all, will not be connected to hydrogen for the time being. In traffic, however, it will be noticeable in the next few years: the number of hydrogen cars (a few 100 cars) and the number of hydrogen refuelling stations (9 public and private locations by 2022 and some in the pipeline) will start to slowly increase. The Climate Agreement agreed to have 50 hydrogen refuelling stations by 2025.