Shell and Gasunie unveiled plans for what’s claimed to be Europe’s biggest green hydrogen project in the Netherlands, powered by up to 10GW of offshore wind in the North Sea.

The oil giant and gas infrastructure group will advance the NortH2 project in conjunction with Groningen Seaports, with a large hydrogen electrolyser slated to be sited in Eemshaven.

The partners want to have the first hydrogen flowing from the project by 2027, powered by an initial 3-4GW of offshore turbines. The offshore wind fleet could grow as large as 10GW by 2040, said a statement announcing the project, with a production of 800,000 tonnes of green hydrogen annually.

NortH2 marks a massive ramp-up in the stated offshore wind ambitions of Shell, which is already involved as a partner in developments off the Netherlands as part of its wider energy transition strategy.

At 10GW the project's ambition in offshore wind outstrips even mega-developments such as the UK's Dogger Bank, where Equinor and Innogy are currently building 5.2GW between them.

Marjan van Loon, president of Shell Nederland, said: “Together, we are launching an ambition that puts the Netherlands at the forefront of hydrogen globally. In addition, it contributes to achieving the objectives of the Dutch Climate Agreement and accelerates the energy transition.

“This project offers opportunities throughout the entire hydrogen chain. In addition, it fits well with our New Energies aspirations and our ambitions to find new ways to reduce CO2 emissions and deliver more and cleaner energy, at home, on the go and at work.”

The massive ambition of NortH2 will come at a huge cost, not specified by the partners, who did, however, indicate that “the initial project phases may potentially require European and national subsidies available for the decarbonisation of energy”.

Recent Dutch government auctions for offshore wind have been run on a zero-subsidy basis and the sector more widely is moving in that direction, so any support would most likely be attached to the hydrogen production side of the equation.

The trio of partners admitted the project “depends, among other things, on permits from governments, the assignment of new wind farm locations in the North Sea, the available locations for the hydrogen facility/facilities and the final investment decisions of the parties concerned”.

The project will kick off with a feasibility study the partners aim to finish this year.

They will simultaneously “start discussions with the relevant European, national, regional and local authorities on the regulatory and policy frameworks, enabling stable and positive investment decisions”.

Green, or renewable, hydrogen and offshore wind power are rapidly emerging as key partners in efforts to drive hydrogen’s role in the energy transition, where it is seen as important part of the jigsaw able to reach hard-to-decarbonise sectors such as heating and transport.

A project in the UK involving Orsted aims to tap what will soon be the world’s largest offshore farm, Hornsea 2, for green hydrogen production.

Orsted also laid down a marker for Dutch green hydrogen production in a recent tender bid for Netherlands acreage.

Why hydrogen is important for the energy transition

Hydrogen is a zero-emissions fuel that can be used for energy storage, heat production, long-distance transport, and to decarbonise polluting industrial processes such as steel and cement production. Hydrogen can either be burned to generate energy or turned into electricity directly using a fuel cell.

More than 95% of the hydrogen produced today is derived from unabated fossil fuels (natural gas or coal), resulting in nine to 12 tonnes of CO2 emissions for every tonne of H2. This is known as grey hydrogen.

However, 'green hydrogen' can be produced with zero emissions by using renewable electricity to split water molecules into H2 and oxygen inside a machine called an electrolyser; a process known as electrolysis.

Or the CO2 emissions from natural-gas-based H2 production can be captured and stored, resulting in what is known as blue hydrogen. Strictly speaking, this would be classed as low-carbon hydrogen as not all the CO2 from the production process can be captured.