Dutch mill + wind = hydrogen

Successfully making the transition to a fully sustainable energy supply requires more than just sun and wind. There is a great need for innovative, small-scale energy projects by driven entrepreneurs, also in the field of energy efficiency. The first Dutch hydrogen turbine is a prime example of this.

Hugo Groenemans is one of these driven entrepreneurs. When he switched from the gas industry to the wind sector, he discovered that there was a need for sustainably produced gas to complete the energy transition: green hydrogen. He therefore launched a start-up called Hygro, together with Jan Willem Langelaar. Their hydrogen turbine converts generated wind energy directly into hydrogen. This decentralised method of hydrogen production does not require sustainably generated electricity, so it doesn't place any demands on the existing production capacity of renewable energy.

Cheaper

There are also other major advantages. Compared to the large-scale hydrogen plants connected to the electricity grid, this technique allows much more hydrogen to be extracted from wind energy, at a much lower cost. "Our wind turbines can generate on average 40 percent more energy than regular wind turbines," Groenemans explains. "Regular wind turbines often switch off at a wind force of 4.5 or higher, because under these circumstances they generate more energy than the power cables can handle. This isn't an issue when you convert wind energy into hydrogen directly.” Construction work on the first Hygro turbine in Wieringermeer started at the end of May 2020. The turbine is expected to be operational in the second quarter of 2021.

Making society more sustainable

Hygro has partnered with Triodos Groenfonds to finance the construction. The fund invests in projects that make our society more sustainable and drive the energy transition. “Projects we are involved in focus on, for example, generating clean energy, producing our food responsibly and the sustainable building of homes," says Angeles Toledo, Fund Manager at Triodos Groenfonds. Hygro contributes to solving the problem of energy storage, so the company fits well into this profile.

Guts and responsibility

"What is paramount to us is that we think along with entrepreneurs. We have had a distinct role within the financing landscape for many years. In 1985, we financed the first wind turbine. This is now a mainstream activity that all banks participate in. But we were the first and we are still pioneering today. With guts and in a responsible way. Because we are in it for the long haul, we have time to focus on the preliminary process. In principle, we stay on board until the project is completed.”

Public support

Harold Hofenk, Relationship Manager at Triodos Bank Nederland, has been involved with Hygro for more than two years and is enthusiastic about the project: "It's the first wind turbine that will produce hydrogen directly, which is really unique and very efficient. This technique is not at the expense of (green) electricity and can therefore count on the public's support. That's why it is interesting for us."

Breaking the circle

The relationship managers are tasked with distinguishing between the dreamers and the doers. A project must be technically sound and feasible. Hofenk: "Sometimes you think: why hasn't anyone done that before? We are assisted by technical advisers in order to determine the feasibility of a project. Customers tell me that we dare to invest earlier and spend more time on projects than the big banks. Especially with new projects, there's a lot to consider. Is it wise to build a wind turbine before there are enough sales opportunities for hydrogen? Then again, in this market, supply drives sales. We think along with our clients about how you can get out of that vicious cycle, while incorporating safety margins to protect our investment. For example, this wind turbine can also be used without hydrogen."

Income distribution

Triodos Groenfonds also invests in energy cooperatives that build parks for generating solar energy. The property is owned by people in the area and they share in the proceeds. This helps build support among local residents for sustainable initiatives. Hofenk: "We spend a lot of time explaining and involving people in the whole process. This is important, because the energy transition is not only a technical story; it's also about income distribution. In our view, some of the energy gains should benefit the community in order to make their neighbourhood more sustainable.”

Well-stocked investment portfolio

When it comes to a sustainable future, Hofenk is optimistic: "There are many wonderful new energy projects. We will need a lot of innovation in order to achieve a 50% renewable energy supply in the Netherlands by 2030 and 100% by 2050. As Triodos Groenfonds, we are ready for this. Our investment portfolio is well stocked. It would be great if more money flowed into the fund though. The projects are definitely there."