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How Flanders is set to become a European hydrogen hub

Did you know that Belgium and the country’s northern region of Flanders have the most hydrogen pipelines per square kilometer in the whole world? Meanwhile, local companies like Fluxys and Agfa-Gevaert are poised to capitalize on the EUR 470 billion worth of hydrogen investments that are expected in Europe by 2050. 

Growing sector

If Europe wants to be the first climate-neutral continent by 2050, it must replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources quickly. “Using more solar and wind power makes sense in this regard, but hydrogen is also becoming crucial to meeting the goals of the European Green Deal,” explain Guy Sips and Benjamin Wolff, analysts at KBC Securities, in a comprehensive report. “Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. Compared to other energy carriers, such as gasoline and diesel, it contains three times as much energy for the same weight,” Sips says.

In particular, green hydrogen is the future. The Hydrogen Council expects the sector to grow by 7% annually through 2050. That would bring global demand to 660 million tons of hydrogen, seven times more than today. The European Commission predicts that by then EUR 470 billion will be invested in European hydrogen projects, creating 1 million jobs. Belgium’s economic relaunch plan following the COVID pandemic alone includes over EUR 400 million in investments in the hydrogen economy.

Transport and storage hub

The possibilities are endless. Hydrogen can not only serve as an energy source for industry and heating applications but also as fuel for cars and trucks, even for ships and planes. And Flanders is helping to make this happen. The European Clean Hydrogen Alliance has over 750 hydrogen projects in the EU in the pipeline, 70 of which are linked to Belgium and Flanders as a region. 

For instance, system operator Fluxys is constructing a hydrogen network of over 100 kilometers to connect industrial clusters. Via the energy terminal in the Zeebrugge area of Port of Antwerp-Bruges (Flanders), the company can import hydrogen by sea. Fluxys is also building an electrolysis plant in Zeebrugge in partnership with Virya Energy. At the Port of Ostend, dredging specialist DEME and Flanders’ public investment company PMV are doing the same. 

Belgium and Flanders can become a transport and storage hub to bring hydrogen to all of Western Europe through an extensive network of pipelines. Here, the Zeebrugge terminal and the Fluxys network will play a major role. By the way, did you know that Belgium already has the most hydrogen pipelines per square kilometer in the world? Moreover, some of our companies are pioneers in the hydrogen race.

Guy Sips
analyst at KBC Securities

Pioneering players in the hydrogen race

In addition to Fluxys, Agfa-Gevaert, a leading printing and imaging solutions multinational headquartered in Mortsel (Flanders), is well placed to capitalize on the hydrogen boom. The company’s product Zirfon® is an alkaline membrane that is crucial for the separation of the anode and cathode in large-scale electrolysis, needed for hydrogen production. Analysts see the product as a potential goldmine. “Zirfon® has a 90 to 95% market share,” says Sips. “Moreover, it requires little capital and operating costs. When it comes to alkaline membranes, Zirfon® is the best product.” 

Other local companies, such as Solvay and Umicore, are part of the picture as well. Solvay has a similar product to Zirfon®, but for polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells. Meanwhile, Umicore builds EM catalysts for fuel cells and has already signed contracts with a dozen car and truck manufacturers and suppliers. 

There’s also Bekaert. Headquartered in Zwevegem (Flanders), the multinational offers materials for the industry. The company has formed a consortium for hydrogen research with, among others, Colruyt and DEME. Mechanical engineering group John Cockerill will integrate this hydrogen expertise into its production activities. 

Learn more about environmental tech initiatives in Flanders. 

More info

Hydrogen Council
Reported by
newspaper De Tijd
9 June 2022

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