Tom Dhaenens

Americans to produce green hydrogen in port of Antwerp

Plug Power, an American company, is building a new factory to produce environment-friendly hydrogen in the port of Antwerp.  The initiative represents an investment of 300 million euros.

The new plant will arise on the site formerly occupied by GM. 

Hydrogen isn’t a gas that is freely available in the environment but needs to be produced.  This can be done by using electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. When electricity is generated by solar or wind power the hydrogen produced is labelled ‘green hydrogen’.

By 2025 the new factory in the port of Antwerp will be making 12,500 tons of green hydrogen a year.  That represents 100 Megawatts of power.

Flemish premier Jambon notes that hydrogen plays an important role in energy transition: “The strategic location of our ports, the expertise of our companies, research and education bodies mean Flanders possesses all the trump cards to become Europe’s hydrogen hub”. 

Today hydrogen is mainly used as a raw material in the petrochemical and steel industries, but it can also be employed as a fuel.  Hydrogen is used to power buses that do not emit any greenhouse gases. Most hydrogen produced today is grey hydrogen made using fossil fuels like gas.  An estimated 200,000 tons of grey hydrogen is produced in Flanders each year.

Scientists like Ronnie Belmans of research centre EnergyVille point out green energy to produce green hydrogen isn’t readily available: “In coming years we will need all our green electricity to ensure electricity consumption is environmentally-friendly”.

Prof Thijs Van de Graaf, an expert in energy policy at UGent, points to the great loss in energy – some 60% - when you use wind energy to produce hydrogen and then electricity.

Engineer Alexandra Lybaert however stresses the great opportunity to create the necessary know-how for the future in Belgium.

Despite the new plant Belgium will have to continue to import hydrogen from places like Chili, Namibia and Oman, where there is sufficient room for solar panels.  Prof Van de Graaf warns against too much reliance on foreign suppliers as is the case with oil and gas from Russia today.

He notes hydrogen forms an essential contribution to energy transition away from fossil fuel but concedes its contribution will be small”.

However, the hydrogen that will soon be produced in the port of Antwerp won’t only help to towards energy transition.  Green hydrogen will also continue to be needed in the chemical and steel industries.

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