Hydrogen is a chemical element that represents 90% of all atoms in the universe, but hardly ever occurs in pure form in nature. Hydrogen atoms attach to other atoms. Hydrogen is also a potential carrier of energy. That makes it interesting as excess energy can be stored using hydrogen gas through the process of electroanalysis.
Excess electricity is directed through water. Water splits into oxygen and hydrogen atoms with the hydrogen atoms carrying part of the electricity. Belgium’s important petrochemical industry is also a potential source of hydrogen as it is released when natural gas is processed.
In time hydrogen could replace fossil fuels like gas and petroleum. Gas fuelled electricity generators could in future be fuelled by hydrogen.
The new law will regulate hydrogen transport via a pipe network and appoint a company to manage the network in the same way that Fluxys manages the natural gas network.
Air Liquide already operates the world’s largest hydrogen pipe network in Belgium. The network originates in France and travels to the ports of Zeebrugge and Antwerp but also to the Netherlands.
Hydrogen isn’t a magic solution warns VRT Luc Pauwels: “It isn’t a fuel, but rather a means to store energy. You can produce green energy but when electricity is directed through water there is a 30% loss of power”.
Belgium is eager to be a pioneer. Europe is investing in hydrogen technology, but Belgium believes it should move faster. Pauwels compares the opportunity to the investments in an LNG (liquified natural gas) terminal in the port of Zeebrugge at the time of the Seventies energy crisis. Liquified gas arrives by ship and is processed to allow it to be distributed across Europe via a pipe network. It has proved to be an important treasure at a time when many countries are eager to wean themselves off Russian gas. Belgium has the ambition of becoming a hub for hydrogen too, but the roll out of the network will take several years yet.