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The port of Antwerp already has installations that can produce renewable energy on site

300 million euros for a green hydrogen plant in the port of Antwerp

300 million euros for a green hydrogen plant in the port of Antwerp

The facility will draw power from nearby solar and wind installations, but is that power better spent elsewhere?

Yesterday, authorities in the Antwerp-Bruges port, in Belgium, announced that the American company Plug Power will invest 300 million euros to build a green hydrogen facility there. The deal was signed during a Belgian trade mission to the US. The new facility will be constructed on the former General Motors site in the port of Antwerp.

The H2 plant will draw renewable energy from nearby solar panels and wind turbines in combination with purchased green electricity. The finish date has been set for 2025, and the plant is expected to produce 12,500 tons of hydrogen or the rough equivalent of 100 megawatts.

Green hydrogen – the missing link in Europe’s renewable energy scheme

Many hail green hydrogen as a sort of miracle power source, which can be a perfect plug for the massive logistical issue that an overreliance on renewable energy can lead to. The main issue with renewable power is that the power output it generates is unreliable and fluctuates significantly.

Simply put, solar cells do not produce power at night or on cloudy days. It is a similar story with wind turbines, although offshore installations mitigate that effect to some degree. On top of that, renewables see their peak output during the day when energy consumption is at its lowest.

So in order to maintain a stable energy grid with a near constant flow of energy, producers need a way to quickly increase or decrease outputs – a sort of buffer source. This is where natural gas comes in since it offers this flexibility.

However, it comes with strings attached. One is that the main exporter of natural gas to the EU is Russia. Consequently, since the start of the war in Ukraine, the overreliance on a single big exporter has been revealed to be a significant strategic flaw.

The other is that natural gas, despite being a relatively CO2-light emitter, is still a fossil fuel and its contribution to pollution and global warming is nothing to scoff at.

Green hydrogen seemingly solves all these issues, as it is a substitute for natural gas, yet, it is produced through renewable energy and when used, it emits water.

A reality check on miracle power sources

Although many praise the promise of green hydrogen, according to some experts, the technology offers more than it can deliver. In a recent report by VRT, Thijs Van de Graaf, professor of international energy politics at the University of Ghent explained that producing hydrogen could end up just wasting renewable electricity.

As he put it, when converting wind energy into green hydrogen, 30% of that output is lost. Then, when that hydrogen is converted back into electricity, there are further losses. All in all, he said, this whole process causes around 60% losses on the initial output.

He finished by pointing out that using electricity to produce electricity will always be inefficient, so feeding renewables directly into the grid and lessening our current fossil fuel dependency would be much better.

At the same time, however, physicist Alexandra Lybaert explained that using surplus energy from solar and wind could be pumped into producing hydrogen, especially since daytime consumption is so low. In this way, the hydrogen production cycle would become a sort of battery, that can release stored capacities over time and when they are needed.

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