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From Wind Farm to Customer: Pipelife at the Forefront of Europe's Hydrogen Infrastructure Development
February 15, 2023
8 min read
Increasing the share of renewable hydrogen in Europe's energy economy is crucial to meet the goals of the European Green Deal and reach the region's climate neutrality by 2050. The Netherlands has become one of Europe's hydrogen champions thanks to the country’s innovation-oriented coastal industry hubs, well-developed gas infrastructure and strong governmental support. We invited our renewable energy experts to discuss the success of the Netherlands’ hydrogen strategy as well as the role of Pipelife's solutions in its implementation.
Scaling Up Green Hydrogen Production
Together with Denmark and Germany, the Netherlands is currently at the vanguard of building Europe's green hydrogen economy. The country is perfectly positioned to produce renewable hydrogen from offshore wind farms in the North Sea and willing to use this potential to decarbonize its industrial sector. A 20 MW electrolyzer is planned in Delfzijl, Groningen, and might be operational already in 2024, producing 3000 tons of green hydrogen per year. If successful, the plant will be the first of its kind in Europe, breaking the way for the development of even higher-capacity electrolyzers in the future.
However, this is only one of the several industry-shaping renewable hydrogen projects in progress, earning the Northern Netherlands its label 'the Hydrogen Valley of Europe.' Pipelife's brand SoluForce contributes to accelerating the advancement of green hydrogen infrastructure with its unique Reinforced Thermoplastic Pipe (RTP) system for high-pressure hydrogen transportation. The non-metallic, flexible pipes are resistant to embrittlement and corrosion, ensuring higher safety, longer service life and reduced carbon footprint compared to steel alternatives.
"Compared to steel pipes, the costs for the installation of RTP system are estimated to be at least 70% lower due to their lower weight and availability in longer lengths. Hence, less logistical movements, fewer connections and, thus, significantly shorter delivery and installation times for projects," says Robert Jan Berg, General Manager of SoluForce.
In 2021, SoluForce RTP was certified for hydrogen applications up to 42 bar by KIWA — a leading European institution for testing, inspection and certification. The system is a global first and already at use in constructing a large-scale wind park at Groningen Seaports.
Project Director at Groningen Seaports, Eertwijn van den Dool emphasizes the importance of RTP in the ambitious project:"As Groningen Seaports, we play an active role in making the industry in the Northern Netherlands greener and more sustainable. Through the collaboration with SoluForce, we have been able to develop and install a piping system that is more cost-effective than the alternative, steel, contributing to the acceleration of the energy transition."
The Most-Developed Gas Infrastructure in Europe
In parallel to decarbonizing the Netherlands' industrial clusters, renewable hydrogen has a strong potential to transform the country's gas grids. No other country in Europe currently boasts a natural gas network as sophisticated as in the Netherlands — facilitating the hydrogen transition and bringing down associated costs.
The excellent state of the Dutch pipelines is no coincidence — in 1959, one of the world's largest natural gas fields was found in Groningen. The discovery pushed forward the development of gas lines throughout the country as well as made the Netherlands one of Europe's main gas suppliers. Nowadays, the country's natural gas network consists of highly durable PVC and PE lines, and the existing underground infrastructure is suitable for low- and medium-pressure hydrogen transportation.
In the 90s, Pipelife Netherlands developed the unique gas distribution system Polsafe, which helped coin the country's state-of-the-art gas network. An integrated self-sealing gas valve enables quick, simple and safe installation of household connections without interrupting the supply. The Polsafe system quickly became the standard for low-pressure household connections throughout the country.
"Nowadays, around 90% of gas-supplied houses in the Netherlands rely on Polsafe," explains Maurice Meester, New Energy Product Manager at Pipelife Netherlands. "This system ensures high safety while making previously time-consuming installation tasks a matter of seconds."
Securing Gas Lines in More than 40 Countries
Another groundbreaking gas solution developed by Pipelife Austria was already presented in 1992. Pipelife Gas-Stop is an excess flow valve that automatically shuts off in response to abnormal flow changes and, thus, stops leakages. By now, more than 10 million Pipelife Gas-Stop units have been installed in the gas lines of over 40 countries, and it is estimated that the solution has helped prevent around 45,000 cases of gas leakage.
An especially created Pipelife Gas-Stop combines its own advantages together with the straightforward application of the Polsafe system in the Netherlands. While the operating principle remains the same, the adapted safety valve is vertically inserted into a Polsafe attachment rather than horizontally into the gas line itself.
Preparing the Gas Grids for Safe Hydrogen Use in Households
Furthermore, Pipelife was eager to explore the potential of Pipelife Gas-Stop in preventing leaks in hydrogen supply pipes. As all components of Gas-Stop were already fit for this new application, it was easy to meet the high requirements for KIWA certification, which was obtained in 2022.
Alexander Schmid, Product Manager Pipelife Gas-Stop, explains:“Pipelife Gas-Stop formerly installed for preventing accidents in natural gas systems doesn’t have to be exchanged, can remain in the network, and perform in the hydrogen flow with the same accuracy. As hydrogen will be the backbone of future energy mixes, our hydrogen-certified Gas-Stop is ready for action and will have its crucial part in ensuring safe hydrogen distribution to households.”
Renewable Hydrogen Opportunities for Residential Areas
In 2021, Pipelife's gas pipes and Pipelife Gas-Stop were both used for constructing the network of the first Dutch hydrogen demo house in Apeldoorn. The house serves as a testing and training facility for a wide range of professionals, familiarizing them with the specifics of hydrogen applications in residential areas.
In the same year, a pilot started in the city of Lochem, aiming to convert several homes with a natural gas connection to hydrogen. Lochem boasts iconic architecture dating back to the 17th century. However, the city's historic houses are not energy-efficient enough to be switched to geothermal energy, while installing solar panels in a heritage area would have negative aesthetic impacts.
"Cities like Lochem are one case where we see the advantages of hydrogen over other forms of green energy," explains Meester. "The highly developed centers of our large cities are another example — often, there just isn't space for installing the additional underground infrastructure that some forms of renewable energy would require, while the already-installed PE or PVC gas lines can safely supply even 100% hydrogen."
Building the Highway to Net Zero
As part of the Netherlands' carbon-neutrality goals, the country plans to switch all its buildings to green energy by 2050. The ambitious transition will be achieved by combining various renewable energy forms and technologies.
"Our energy system is to become more diversified, as some areas are better suited for geothermal energy, some for solar power and some for hydrogen," sums up Meester. "Since the Netherlands already has the necessary infrastructure in place, this is the most logical place to implement these new solutions first — and, afterward, to roll them out for the rest of Europe."
Emphasizing the role of green hydrogen in the diversification and resilience of renewable energy infrastructure, the EU adopted its strategy on hydrogen in 2020. Several of the member states, including the Netherlands, have already followed suit by implementing national hydrogen strategies.
"What Pipelife can contribute is a safer, more affordable and complete hydrogen infrastructure," states Harald Schwarzmayr, COO of Wienerberger AG, Europe West. "From the wind farm to the customer, be it for industry, for transport or for heating buildings, we offer the full range. And by accelerating the use of hydrogen, we accelerate the move toward a decarbonized economy."