The Netherlands creates the world’s first national hydrogen grid

The Dutch government will reallocate swathes of natural gas infrastructure to produce the world’s first national hydrogen grid by 2031. Such a plan may not be easily replicable in all markets, but it will continue to lay the foundations for global hydrogen trade and a broader hydrogen economy.

The country’s climate and energy minister, Rob Jetten, announced the strategy in late June, detailing the construction of a 750 million euro national hydrogen transport network. About 85% of the network will be made up of recycled gas pipelines, which will become available when the country’s gas demand peaks between 2026 and 2028, according to Rethink Energy.

The plan aims to use part of the 20 GW of wind farms planned or under construction in the Dutch North Sea by 2030, with 500 MW of electrolysis capacity to produce hydrogen in 2025 and 3.5 GW of by 2030. The network will then connect the main industrial poles, build storage and interconnections with neighboring hydrogen networks.

Key nodes to be connected will include seaports and large industrial clusters looking to become hydrogen hubs in the future, as well as key locations for geological hydrogen storage. Connections with the German regions of Ruhr and Hamburg, as well as with Belgium are also planned to facilitate the future hydrogen trade in Europe.

The first parts of the national network hope to be available in 2025, located in the north of the country, as well as the link to northern Germany. Several industrial clusters in the IJmond and Rijnmond regions are also expected to have hydrogen pipeline segments, which will be connected over the next few years.

Developed by Gasunie – which is half-owned by the Dutch government and the other half between Shell and ExxonMobil – the project will shift the company’s focus towards a TSO role in the country’s hydrogen sector, including the storage and import management.

With huge hydrogen production projects at North Sea wind farms, Gasunie is also likely to become an offshore grid operator.

Gasunie CEO Han Fennema said, “Gasunie is very positive about the hydrogen plans announced today by Minister Jetten. We believe that hydrogen will play a major role as the energy carrier of the future. We are now starting the construction of the public hydrogen grid in the Netherlands, which will be a big boost for the transition to a more sustainable energy system.

Using old natural gas infrastructure also offers a much cheaper and nimble development path. Recent research from Irena has indicated that repurposed pipelines will be between 65% and 94% less expensive than building new hydrogen-specific pipelines, largely due to the reduction in excavation work required.

Repurposing these pipes, which are mostly steel, can be accomplished in most cases by adding new valves to change the operating pressure. No compressor is needed, as the hydrogen will be delivered into the network at the required pressure. Gasunie claims to have carried out several tests to prove this is possible, and already has a converted 12 kilometer pipeline in service in the south of the Netherlands.

The Yara-Dow pipeline was commissioned in 2018, between Dow Chemical Benelux’s plant in Terneuzen and Norwegian ammonia producer Yara’s plant in Sluiskil.

The common misconception is that the energy per unit volume of hydrogen – which is about a third of that of natural gas – will make it difficult to deliver the same amount of energy through the existing grid. But hydrogen can be delivered at about three times the flow velocities, which cancels it out and means the reduction in energy carrying capacity is only marginal, due to a slight increase load losses.

The logistical ease of converting such pipelines, in the case of the Netherlands, is largely due to the fact that Gasunie has succeeded in developing a “robust and modern” network for high-pressure natural gas. It currently has seven parallel gas pipelines linking industrial areas from the north to the south of the country.

As demand for natural gas decreases and demand for hydrogen increases, the Netherlands can repurpose each of these pipelines one by one, with minimal disruption to the country’s energy system.

Other countries with more centralized approaches to gas distribution will struggle with this approach. While they can blend hydrogen into existing pipelines up to 20% volume, anything beyond that requires a complete upgrade to 100% hydrogen and removal of natural gas from that pipeline.

So for the Netherlands, the mix can be increased up to 14% hydrogen, before a pipeline is converted to full hydrogen, and the rest goes back to 100% natural gas, and the process begins again. .

In contrast, Italy, which has three parallel gas pipelines in its northeast region, is expected to make a more sudden shift of 33% away from natural gas towards hydrogen in its network. Poland and Germany are among other countries facing a similar dilemma.

For these countries, a transition to hydrogen will have to be different, and may require new pipelines. One option, however, is to try increasing the mix by no more than 20%. Siemens Energy released a report last year indicating that other operational changes, including improved engines, turbines and reciprocating compressors, can push maximum mixing above 40%, allowing for a low three-rate times greater than that required for 100% natural gas. Demixing technology, such as that developed by Costain, will also be needed to separate hydrogen from natural gas for the end user within the grid.

About Keith Tatum

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