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Rotterdam, a hydrogen hub

Rotterdam is boosting its leading energy supply position. From fossil energy flows to renewable energy. Rotterdam is the hydrogen hub and not just the place where knowledge is being shared. It’s the place where a zero-emission ship will already be sailing on hydrogen by the end of this year.


Marjon Castelijns of Future Proof Shipping and Femke Brenninkmeijer of inland shipping cooperative NPRC, with 140 sailing members, play leading roles in the hydrogen transition in Rotterdam.

The NPRC’s head office is located in Rotterdam and the cooperative also has sites in Germany, Belgium and France. Its 85 years of experience means it’s a true authority within the maritime sector and is involved with all manner of different hydrogen initiatives. Brenninkmeijer: ‘Our focus on sustainability and approaching this from a chain collaboration is decades old. We were the first inland shipping carrier to equip ships with catalytic converters and particulate filters as part of the contract we had entered into with a shipper.

And we are continuing with this line. It’s our ambition to link the desire of the producing industry to reduce CO2-emissions, to our sailing members’ entrepreneurship. Our focus is on establishing long-term relationships, based on the strength of collaborating entrepreneurs.’

For example, Brenninkmeijer works together with the German polymer producer Covestro and chemical company Nobian. ‘The NPRC transports salt for these customers and these customers turn this salt into chlorine. Chlorine production releases hydrogen, which is not their main product.’ Brenninkmeijer states this (green) hydrogen can subsequently be used for logistical purposes, for example as an energy carrier for ships.

First emission-free ship

Marjon Castelijns, Manager Business Development at Future Proof Shipping, is working on accelerating a transition towards sustainable shipping. She realises this in two different ways: putting emission-free ships into operation and helping other parties with this process. It’s her job to connect all the different parties within the chain, from shippers to technicians and from financial parties to hydrogen suppliers.

According to her, hydrogen is the most important energy carrier for emission free shipping. The first emission-free ship will be sailing on 100% hydrogen by the end of this year; fossil fuel will no longer be on board here. ‘The ship will be powered by full electric propulsion with a fuel cell, hydrogen storage and batteries.’

Inland shipping vessels often sail routes from A to B, or within relatively short distances compared to sea shipping, according to Castelijns. She also states they make regular stops, making it easy to refuel with hydrogen from time to time. Castelijns therefore feels inland shipping is the perfect place for a hydrogen testing ground. ‘Inland shipping needs to be an example for coastal shipping and also for the deep sea at a later stage.’

The absolute breakthrough for Future Proof Shipping is that, for the very first time, a ship which runs entirely on hydrogen has been approved by a classification society. Castelijns is also close to obtaining permission from the Central Commission for the Navigation of the Rhine to start sailing within Europe. Then the ship will actually be able to put into operation.

Rotterdam as a Hydrogen Hub

Rotterdam’s unique added value as a hydrogen hub compared to other regions, according to Castelijns, is that it’s Europe’s largest port. ‘The port also plays an important role in Europe’s energy supply.’ The port of Rotterdam fulfils 13% of the total European energy requirements, currently still based on fossil energy flows. According to Castelijns, Rotterdam is currently working on the transition to renewable energy and the port can also become a leader in this area.

It’s Rotterdam’s ambition to further develop the Port Industrial Complex and the related area into Europe’s largest sustainable hydrogen hub, where large-scale production, import, transport and use of hydrogen will take place. Rotterdam boasts a unique position to fulfil a key function for North-West Europe. Castelijns believes Rotterdam’s pioneering role can help the entire maritime sector, the Netherlands and Europe to move forward.

She thinks both Rotterdam as a city, but certainly also the surrounding area, play an important role. The region is brimming with suppliers, plus there’s a great deal of technical knowledge about the shipping industry too. ‘Rotterdam dares to progress. And that is quite unique, particularly in inland shipping. Companies currently in the lead really want to move forward.’ Castelijns hopes the rest of the maritime sector will follow suit. She feels Rotterdam can definitely stimulate this.

According to Brenninkmeijer, Rotterdam has the required critical mass and industry at its disposal. ‘Plus the port actually has a catalytic effect.’ Brenninkmeijer is of the opinion that the entire maritime ecosystem comes together in Rotterdam. ‘Rotterdam can now certainly distinguish itself internationally with the knowledge acquired in the hydrogen field.’ The opportunities for hydrogen go way beyond just the port. ‘For example, the shipbuilders in the region also benefit from the knowledge already being acquired about ships running on hydrogen.’

Hydrogen in inland shipping  – RH2INE

It’s literally teeming with hydrogen initiatives. Brenninkmeijer: ‘We’re really going to do it and we’re one of the first in the world to do so. And we’re going at quite a pace, thanks to everyone who’s been helping us.’ Castelijns feels the Rhine Hydrogen Integration Network of Excellence (RH2INE) is an important initiative for the developments in the inland shipping sector. RH2INE is focussed on making the TEN-T Rhine-Alpine (transport) corridor more sustainable.

The intention is to match the supply and demand of green hydrogen for inland shipping along the corridor. Both the production and the refuelling of hydrogen. The municipality of Rotterdam supports this collaboration between the Province of Zuid-Holland, the Port of Rotterdam Authority, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate and the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Brenninkmeijer has reached the conclusion that money for the construction of new ships isn’t all that’s needed. Good infrastructure is going to be important too. Gasunie and the Port of Rotterdam have taken the initiative to construct a hydrogen pipeline from Maasvlakte II to the Shell refinery in Pernis.

This hydrogen pipeline links the production of hydrogen directly to the use of hydrogen and must also be connected to the national backbone. The pipeline must be complete by 2023, in time for Shell’s opening of an electrolyser (green hydrogen factory) on Maasvlakte 2.

According to Brenninkmeijer, it would be great if the pipeline could be extended to North Rhine-Westphalia. Castelijns: ‘The Rhine is Europe’s most important inland waterway. This is where the largest volume goes. What the A2 is for the Netherlands, is what the Rhine is for inland shipping.’

According to Brenninkmeijer, the RH2INE collaboration is also important for realising our climate goals from a European perspective. A Dutch-German collaboration from the maritime sector with government authorities and companies has never been realised on a large scale before and is therefore very unique, according to the NPRC’s CEO. ‘It’s a powerful lobby, in which the province of Zuid-Holland plays an important pioneering role. Major hydrogen suppliers such as Shell and Air Liquide are also connected, in addition to companies and government authorities.

The German hinterland is very important to the Port of Rotterdam. Therefore, Brenninkmeijer feels the RH2Ine project can be seen as the breakthrough in the greening of hinterland logistics. Another important aspect in why RH2INE is promising is that we’re working towards standardisation with this consortium.


Brenninkmeijer emphasises that innovation is ‘incredibly labour-intensive’. According to her, a hydrogen ship certainly won’t be built in a day. ‘These are long-term projects, both where the preparation and the eventual construction are concerned.’ The NPRC is strongly focussed on costs as an organisation, ‘as the transport market is incredibly competitive and volatile’. The NPRC therefore can’t simply appoint a team of innovators. ‘It will take a great deal of time to get all of this organised.’

Castelijns has pleaded for a clearer hydrogen vision from the Dutch government, in order to further speed up the hydrogen ambitions. ‘This vision will also include a timeline, detailing when hydrogen will become available.’ Brenninkmeijer adds. ‘And how is reducing CO2 emissions going to be attractive for the maritime sector? It currently has very little commercial value.’

These maritime women certainly have plenty of ambition. Brenninkmeijer and Castelijns have set themselves the objective of realising the first zero-emission ships sailing on hydrogen in the forthcoming years and to work together to ensure inland shipping is firmly placed on the map. But also, to work together to get the necessary regulations off the ground and to work towards standardisation for hydrogen applications. Brenninkmeijer: ‘Together we can do so much more.’

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