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Hydrogen will fly in the Northern Netherlands

28 March 2022

Broad ERDF WAviatER project partnership to develop green hydrogen ecosystem

The industrial hydrogen ecosystem in the Northern Netherlands is receiving a significant boost that builds onto the foundation laid by the first Hydrogen Valley in Europe. The motivating reason for this is the WAviatER project: Hydrogen production technology for the Aviation sector and Energy applications at a Regional level. At the beginning of this month, the Northern Netherlands Alliance awarded a grant to this project from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). As part of this project, a Northern Netherlands consortium will be developing green hydrogen technology. The consortium partners are Douna Machinery Leeuwarden, JB Besturingstechniek, REDstack, Demcon, Groningen Airport Eelde, New Energy Coalition and the University of Groningen, supported by the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) and VONK, a leading power and control systems solutions provider. The first concrete application is at Groningen Airport Eelde: Hydrogen Valley Airport. An electrolyzer will be developed here to produce green hydrogen as an emission-free energy carrier for light airplanes, drones and ground material. “In the Northern Netherlands this is the first step towards an ecosystem of companies that develop their own products for the green hydrogen economy.”

Europe recognizes the Northern Netherlands as a key center for the development of hydrogen technology and designated the region as a Hydrogen Valley. Within the region, Groningen Airport Eelde is implementing various initiatives to make the airport and aviation sustainable. Aside from the existing 22 MW solar park, the Hydrogen Valley Airport project of Groningen Airport Eelde, New Energy Coalition, University of Groningen and other parties, also forms part of these initiatives. The WAviatER project gives concrete substance to Hydrogen Valley Airport.

The WAviatER project started at the beginning of this year, supported by a grant awarded by the Northern Netherlands Alliance (SNN) from the Regional Development (ERDF) - REACT-EU fund. The total budget amounts to 3.5 million euros, with more than half being contributed by the project’s partners themselves. Demcon leads the consortium that furthermore includes Groningen Airport Eelde, New Energy Coalition, University of Groningen and technological frontrunners Douna Machinery Leeuwarden, JB Besturingstechniek and REDstack.

Toon Hermans, managing director of Demcon energy systems, praises the efforts of the airport and other partners. “Green hydrogen is being studied in many places, but here in the Northern Netherlands people are looking for partnerships that enable them to develop concrete products. With New Energy Coalition as the architect of Hydrogen Valley and the pacesetter for the energy transition, and with companies and knowledge institutes that really want to do something with hydrogen, there is a hive of activity here. The airport demonstrates its value to the environment by acting as a flywheel for this development.”

Jan Bos, managing director of JB Besturingstechniek, sees the project as a tremendous opportunity. “The participating companies will be able to enhance their knowledge of hydrogen production. It presents Groningen Airport Eelde with a great opportunity to focus on clean aviation.”

Douna Machinery Leeuwarden (connecting green technologies) aims to play a prominent role in the green energy transition, says managing director Ale Procee. “Hydrogen production is going to make an important contribution in this respect. The project not only contributes to sustainability, it will also give the manufacturing and service industries in the Northern Netherlands a major boost over time.”

The project is an excellent opportunity for the Northern Netherlands to become a pioneer in the production of green hydrogen on a medium scale, says Vasilis Kyriakou, assistant professor Energy Conversion & Processes at the Engineering and Technology institute of the University of Groningen. Kyriakou together with Professor Paolo Pescarmona will supervise a postdoc who will be employed on this project. The RUG team will play a key role in the conceptual design and development of the electrolytic cell for water splitting to hydrogen and the assembly and validation of these cells. They will also employ advanced experimentation techniques in model cells to elucidate possible degradation mechanisms and advise the industrial partners for possible issues and challenges to be addressed prior scaling up.

‘Green’ hydrogen is produced in an electrolyzer, which uses green electricity to split water up into hydrogen and oxygen. Currently this process, on a small scale, is not yet competitive with the large-scale, natural gas-based production of ‘grey’ hydrogen. For decentralized applications there is a need for small to medium-sized electrolyzers that produce green hydrogen at acceptable costs. Furthermore, it is important for the electrolyzers themselves to be sustainable and, for example, they must not be dependent on the use of the scarce and valuable metals currently being used in certain electrolyzers. This is why the WAviatER consortium is going to develop a scalable and sustainable electrolyzer for the airport. In comparison to current alternatives, the acquisition of this electrolyzer must be cheaper, it must be more efficient and must not require the use of scarce and valuable materials. Furthermore it should also be possible to manufacture the electrolyzer using automated serial production.

Technology development
“On the basis of our broad experience with system-based thinking and mechatronic product design, we develop solutions for efficient and renewable energy systems,” says Demcon’s Toon Hermans. “In this project we are focusing on the heart of the electrolyzer, the stack, where the electrolysis reaction takes place. We are calling on various parties for this purpose, such as University of Groningen, which has advanced scientific knowledge of electrolysis-based energy conversion and control engineering for complex energy and other systems. Our sister company Demcon industrial systems Groningen will be developing the required control systems together with JB Besturingstechniek.”

The latter will contribute its expertise of flexible and intelligent automation and measurement systems for the remote control of the electrolyzers. Douna and REDstack are affiliated with the consortium for the production of stacks and complete electrolyzers. Douna has a great deal of experience in the manufacture and maintenance of various devices, such as shut-off valves for natural gas distribution, and is now working on making the transition from fossil fuels to hydrogen. The production technology developed by REDstack for its stacks can also be used for the manufacture of electrolyzers for hydrogen production.

Northern Netherlands ecosystem
The project runs until October 2023 and by this time there must be an operating installation at Groningen Airport Eelde. “Our goal is to produce a comprehensive system for the production, distribution and use of hydrogen,” says Jonas van Dorp, Head Aviation Marketing & Development at Groningen Airport Eelde. “This way we will have a nearby green hydrogen production facility, and together with the expansion of the solar park, we will increasingly develop the airport into an energy hub of regional significance. This is consistent with our aim, as Hydrogen Valley Airport, to be the most sustainable airport in terms of green hydrogen by 2030.”

The green hydrogen produced by the WAviatER project is initially intended for onsite use. Toon Hermans at Demcon views it as the start of a Dutch electrolyzer industry. “In subsequent projects we can further process the hydrogen and with the aid of high-pressure technology make it suitable for use in the transportation sector and elsewhere. In a broader perspective, this is the first step in the Northern Netherlands towards the creation of an ecosystem of companies that develop their own products for the green hydrogen economy.”

Last modified:28 March 2022 3.43 p.m.

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