Hydrogen to be: mapping future global hydrogen trade

Date 30 Mar, 2023

A new research project by DRIFT, Erasmus UPT, TU Delft and CIEP explores the implications of geopolitical developments for energy security in the Netherlands and the ARRRA cluster (Antwerp-Rotterdam-Rhine-Ruhr Area).

Based on future scenarios, the H2ToBe project now comes up with eight investment strategies for (port) industry and government around the role of hydrogen in the energy transition, which indicate the bandwidth for robust investments. A key conclusion from this research is that geopolitical stability has huge implications for energy security.

Over the past three years, far-reaching events like the COVID-19 pandemic, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the consequent energy crisis have drastically changed our view of the world. They made it clear how vulnerable the link of international trade is and how unwise it is to depend on a single trading partner or production line. Despite uncertainty about international trade relations, we are now facing major investments for the energy transition and hydrogen economy in the Netherlands and north-west Europe. How can we invest wisely now when it comes to the role of hydrogen in the energy transition?

Thinking in possible worlds helps to deal with the uncertainties in the energy transition in a structured way.’– Igno Notermans, DRIFT

The research

Researchers from DRIFT, Erasmus UPT, TU Delft and CIEP jointly examined the impact of geopolitics on future hydrogen trade for the Netherlands and the ARRRA cluster based on future scenarios. A number of key players in Rotterdam’s future hydrogen trade (BP, Deltalinqs, Municipality of Rotterdam, Shell, VARO Energy and Vopak) contributed their knowledge and experience to validate the research. Partners in this project are knowledge hub SmartPort, the Resilient Delta initiative (a Convergence program of Erasmus University, TU Delft and Erasmus MC), the Port of Rotterdam Authority and the Province of South Holland.

During this research, four future scenarios were developed for the potential international hydrogen trade. The researchers then considered social, economic, environmental, political and technical aspects affecting the development and implementation of hydrogen in the energy mix of the ARRRA cluster. This approach resulted in eight investment strategies for companies and government organisations, which indicate the range for solid investments.

Future scenarios: from Europe’s Eureka to Broken Bridges

The Revival of the Rhineland Model, The Right of Sun Tzu, Europe’s Eureka or Broken Bridges: the four scenarios from the research outline a variety of worlds in 2040 in which the West, the East or a combination of both takes a leading role in the international political power system. Account is also taken of the degree of open trade and collaboration between countries in general and specifically with regard to hydrogen imports and exports. These key factors represent only a small part of the total of 25 important social, economic, environmental, political and technological factors shaping the emergence of hydrogen trading networks.

Illustration of the four scenarios, by Boerenjongens

A vital conclusion after conducting this research is that geopolitical stability has huge implications for energy security in the Netherlands and the ARRRA cluster. The Broken Bridges scenario, for instance, shows a world in which countries increasingly take protective measures and focus on domestic problems and national interests. In this world, energy security is an issue because of the lack of energy diversity available locally. In contrast, Europe’s Eureka scenario shows that everyone has much to gain from an international cooperative system. This scenario assumes a very open global market and diplomatic successes on the need for carbon neutrality.

Strategic options for sustainable development of the Port Industrial Cluster

Regardless of what the future looks like, there are some smart strategies that are generally good for the Port Industrial Cluster.

  • Investing in domestic and/or regional electricity and hydrogen production is a no-brainer, as energy security is vital but not a given.
  • Ensure diversity in suppliers, energy sources and forms of supply. This reduces the impact of disruptions in the global market.
  • Also provide choices and multifunctionality. If ports, transhipment sites, storage, infrastructure and facilities can be used for different forms of fuel and energy, it reduces risks.
  • It also makes sense to ensure you have a strategic energy reserve, as well as enough pipelines and installations that are not in optimal use all the time, to allow for quick switching.
  • Push even harder for circularity. This can be achieved by attracting new companies and service providers, and by co-investing in port infrastructure needed for the transport and storage of materials, molecules, and energy in the cluster.

In addition, the H2ToBe research project offers three other scenario-specific strategies. The results from this research show the importance of ensuring diverse energy access and highlights some investment recommendations we can take today to increase energy security to meet the climate goals.

More information

Would you like to know more about this research? Contact Igno Notermans (DRIFT), tel +31 (0)10 4081552 or Nikki op ten Berg (SmartPort), tel +31 (0)10 4020338.

DRIFT authors contributing to this report are: Igno Notermans and Roel van Raak

Funded by
This project was funded by Resilient Data, SmartPort, Port of Rotterdam Authority, and the Province of South Holland. Separate funding was provided to CIEP by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy (EZK) via the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO) in support of this project.

Download the publication
Click here to download the full report
Read the management summary (in English)
Read the ‘managementsamenvatting’ (in Dutch)