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