HY­DRO­GEN VAL­LEY

Geographical - - GE­O­GRAPH­I­CAL NEXT MONTH -

The Slochteren gas field in Gronin­gen, the Nether­lands, is one of the largest in the world. But liv­ing above this plen­ti­ful sup­ply of en­ergy has never been easy. In 2012, gas min­ing caused a mag­ni­tude 3.6 earth­quake in Huizinge, a vil­lage 15 miles to the north. Though not the first earth­quake, it was the strong­est to date and dam­aged thou­sands of homes. The com­mu­nity turned on the in­dus­try and the gov­ern­ment dis­cussed an end to gas min­ing in the re­gion.

In the next two years, ex­trac­tion will cease on the Slochteren field. At the same time, the re­gion has pitched and won a bid to de­velop the EU’s first hy­dro­gen val­ley on its re­mains. The gov­ern­ment hopes that the val­ley will set a tech­no­log­i­cal blue­print, not just for the Nether­lands but for the whole of Europe. Some parts of the hy­dro­gen val­ley are al­ready a re­al­ity, but not all hy­dro­gen is cre­ated equal. Hy­dro­gen does not ex­ist in large quan­ti­ties on Earth and must be pro­duced. So-called grey hy­dro­gen is cre­ated us­ing nat­u­ral gas, a process that still emits car­bon diox­ide. At the moment, the val­ley only pro­duces grey hy­dro­gen. The ideal sce­nario is to pro­duce green hy­dro­gen, cre­ated through elec­trol­y­sis of wa­ter – a zero-emis­sion process. A third colour, blue, is used to describe grey hy­dro­gen projects where the CO2 is cap­tured and stored.

For some en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, the val­ley’s plans to use mostly blue hy­dro­gen un­til 2030 is sim­ply a tool to prop up the nat­u­ral gas in­dus­try. To them, any­thing that re­lies on fos­sil fu­els is a dis­trac­tion from the real task of de­car­bon­is­ing the en­ergy sup­ply. Nev­er­the­less, the EU is bet­ting big on hy­dro­gen. ‘Hy­dro­gen will pro­pel Euro­pean in­dus­try into the 21st cen­tury,’ said Frans Tim­mer­mans, the EU’s head of the Euro­pean Green Deal dur­ing the launch of the bloc’s first ever hy­dro­gen strat­egy this sum­mer.

Next month, we ex­plore the cre­ation of Europe’s first ever hy­dro­gen val­ley and ask whether this gas re­ally could be­come the clean en­ergy dream that its pro­po­nents be­lieve it to be.

The mag­num power sta­tion in Eemshaven, the Nether­lands, is be­ing con­verted from a nat­u­ral gas fa­cil­ity to a hy­dro­gen one

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