Pioneering hydrogen fuel cell demonstration projects underpin Europe’s green strategy

RegioStars 2013 FinalistSustainable hydrogen is an important element in Europe’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to increase energy efficiency and the cross-border region of Flanders-South Netherlands is leading the way in the utilisation of sustainable hydrogen fuel cells.

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The regions of Flanders (BE) and South Netherlands (NL) have a huge potential for exploiting the benefits of hydrogen as an economic and sustainable energy source, as the area is home to a number of important and promising players and end-users for hydrogen.

The ‘Hydrogen Region Flanders-South Netherlands’ project was launched in 2009 to expand this region as a knowledge intensive ‘hotspot’ for the sustainable production of hydrogen and related applications in particular focused on early markets.

The Flanders-led initiative runs parallel to the work of the EU which has recently launched the Joint Undertaking on Fuel Cells and Hydrogen (JU-FCH) to bring together the expertise and resources of the European industry, knowledge centres and regions to undertake demonstration projects. The Flanders-South Netherlands project aims to become a leading player in this programme.

The three year project, which is funded by the EU (ERDF), the Flemish and Dutch authorities and industry, focuses on the development of sustainable hydrogen fuelling infrastructure as well as the efficient use of hydrogen, e.g. produced as a waste-product by the chlorine industry.

It also set out to promote projects involving the efficient use of hydrogen and fuel cells with early adopters in new applications such as logistics, shipping and public transport.

Innovative technical solutions

The hydrogen project brings together partners from industry – both large firms and SMEs - research centres, universities and regional development in both regions, coordinated by the non-profit organisation WaterstofNet.

The project encourages and motivates SMEs to develop innovative technical solutions which will make hydrogen applications more efficient, sustainable and competitive. To date 12 demonstration projects have been completed or are in progress. These involve more than 50 players, half of which are SMEs.

A significant achievement is the development at the Solvay plant in the port of Antwerp of the biggest fuel cell test facility for waste hydrogen in the world. The plant converts waste hydrogen, as a by-product of the chlorine production, into 1 MW electricity, enough to supply energy to some 2 000 homes. The facility has been delivered by a consortium of SMEs from Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.

In a further project, a ‘re-locatable’ hydrogen fuelling station, has been installed at the logistics centre of one of Flanders’ biggest retailers, Colruyt, and was inaugurated in February 2012. The fuelling station generates green hydrogen from renewable wind and solar energy sources. The hydrogen is used as a fuel for vehicles such as forklift trucks and occasionally passenger cars.

Development of maritime projects

Also being developed under the project are seven maritime and logistic zero-emission demonstration projects. These focus on the conversion of forklift trucks, maritime vessels, a garbage truck, a utility vehicle and a bus to hydrogen.

In conjunction with the demonstration projects, an interactive education programme on hydrogen is being developed with a group of local universities and technical colleges to support the recruitment of new staff by SMEs as they expand their hydrogen business.

Based on the project results, major industrial partners (large firms and also SMEs) are becoming members of the cluster on hydrogen coordinated by WaterstofNet, the regional coordinating programme on hydrogen.

During the period of the project WaterstofNet has become involved in various new European projects including ‘HighVLOcity’, an EU-supported Joint Undertaking project which promotes the use of hydrogen fuel cell buses in public transport in Scotland (UK), Liguria (IT) and Flanders where they are fuelled by waste hydrogen.

"Through the hydrogen project the cross-border region of Flanders-South-Netherlands has firmly established itself as a leading international player in the development of advanced hydrogen technologies, focused on non-fossil hydrogen early market applications. The success of the project is leading to wider cooperation with other leading regions on hydrogen and helping to contribute to the realisation of Europe’s 20-20-20 targets for green energy.”
Adwin Martens, Director, WaterstofNet

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