Flanders - a major global player in the hydrogen market

There is tremendous global interest in hydrogen for industrial applications where it can be used as a chemical building block or an energy carrier, for example. Global warming and the current energy crisis have accelerated this interest and the demand for hydrogen-based solutions.

Chemical and steel companies are actively exploring how green hydrogen can make their processes more sustainable. There is also keen interest from the transport sector and the built-up environment too. These sector developments are resulting in more ambitious European and national hydrogen targets, the signing of international memoranda of understanding and the announcement of major projects. Naturally, the Flemish Region is also playing its part on the international stage of the globally evolving hydrogen economy.

'Made in Flanders'

Flanders is a market leader in the production of this technology and boasts a unique ecosystem of hydrogen companies right across the value chain, all of which have united in the Waterstof Industrie Cluster (‘Hydrogen Industry Cluster’), coordinated by WaterstofNet (‘HydrogenNet’).

Waterstof Industrie Cluster
Image 1: Waterstof Industrie Cluster members across the entire hydrogen value chain

The technologies listed below give an idea of the Waterstof Industrie Cluster's global role. They range from hydrogen production and mobility to large-scale import, transportation and industrial use of hydrogen.

Hydrogen production

  • For decades now, Cummins has been prominent in the development and construction of water electrolysis plants that produce hydrogen from water and green electricity. The largest PolymerElectrolyteMembrane(PEM) electrolysis plant in the world is located in Canada, but it was built in Flanders.
  • Agfa makes specific membranes for alkaline electrolysis systems, which produce hydrogen from water and electricity. They supply some of the major players worldwide.
  • Bekaert produces porous transport layers for PEM electrolysers.
  • Solenco Power builds balancing systems for buildings that convert excess green electricity into hydrogen using electrolysis. Electricity can then be produced when demand is high.
  • Professor Johan Martens' KU Leuven research group is focusing on hydrogen storage and hydrogen panels that convert sunlight and water vapour from the air directly into hydrogen.
  • Van Wingen develops and builds cogeneration systems with hydrogen engines.
  • Limburg-based start-up Ziero and generator manufacturer e-power, have developed a hydrogen generator that looks like an ordinary power generator. However all that comes out of the exhaust is water vapour.

Hydrogen mobility

  • Borit produces bipolar plates, a crucial component of fuel cells and electrolysis systems. A car's fuel cell for example, has around 400 of these plates. Borit supplies to a major fuel cell manufacturer and other global organisations involved in electrolysis.
  • Van Hool has built more than 180 hydrogen buses for America, the Netherlands, France, Germany and Norway, including five for Flanders. That makes Van Hool the market leader in Europe.
  • Anglo Belgian Corporation has been producing diesel-powered internal combustion engines for more than 100 years, but they are now testing the first hydrogen-powered internal combustion engine working closely with CMB.Tech on the project.
  • E-Trucks has dedicated its efforts to building hydrogen-powered waste collection lorries. In 2014, they built the first hydrogen-powered waste collection lorry. Twenty are currently in production, with two of them already commissioned for use in Antwerp.
  • The proprietor of the hydrogen refuelling station next to Antwerp's Havenhuis, CMB.Tech is a market leader in converting diesel engines to dual-fuel (diesel-hydrogen) engines. The company has already converted the engines of several vessels, trucks, tractors and excavators and they are currently focusing on engines for lorries.
 Leden van de Waterstof Industrie Cluster
Image 2: Members of the Waterstof Industrie Cluster
  • Colruyt is a unique organisation in Europe in that they are active throughout the entire value chain and have invested heavily in hydrogen over the past decade:
    • The opening of hydrogen refuelling stations in Wilrijk and Haasrode with three more to come in Erpe-Mere, Herve and Ollignies
    • Company fleet of hydrogen-powered cars and forklifts
    • Testing of the first 40-tonne hydrogen truck in Europe
    • Manufacture of a 25 MW electrolysis system in Zeebrugge ('Hyoffwind').

Import, transport and industrial use

Today, Belgium is a key player in the import and transport of natural gas through its ports. In the future, the Zeebrugge LNG terminal could be converted for hydrogen. This also applies to the dense network of natural gas pipelines operated by Fluxys. Belgium could become a major hydrogen supplier for Europe, particularly to Germany, if Air Liquide's existing hydrogen network were to be combined with new hydrogen pipelines. A review carried out by the Hydrogen Import Coalition shows that mass importation of green hydrogen is both technically and economically feasible.

This 'backbone' would connect Flanders-based industrial clusters, which would become the main consumers of Flemish hydrogen. At the North Sea port of Ghent, ArcelorMittal are to become one of the first steel companies in the world to produce steel using green hydrogen. At the home of the world's second-largest petrochemical cluster, the Port of Antwerp-Bruges, grey hydrogen will be completely replaced by green hydrogen. Flemish ports play a vital role in extensive industrial projects:

  • Hyoffwind, the 25 MW electrolysis system in Zeebrugge thanks to the Colruyt initiative
  • North-C-Hydrogen, a 67 MW electrolysis plant at ENGIE Rodenhuize's site at Ghent port
  • Power-to-Methanol, producing methanol from captured CO2 combined with hydrogen sustainably generated from renewable electricity. This is an ENGIE, Fluxys, Indaver, INOVYN, Advario, Participatie Maatschappij Vlaanderen (PMV) and Port of Antwerp-Bruges initiative.
  • Pilot project by ENGIE and INEOS Phenol to inject hydrogen into the natural gas feed of a gas turbine. This would initially involve a volume of 10%, that could be increased to 20%.

Stefan Van Laer

Stefan Van Laer - Waterstofnet