Belgium has strong assets as an industrial and logistics hub for green hydrogen in Western Europe. Entrepreneurs, bankers and the European Union discuss the challenges and opportunities.
At the global BNP Paribas Sustainable Future Forum on 18 October 2022, held at the auditorium of BNP Paribas Fortis' new Brussels headquarters, 5 experts discussed the European Union's contribution to the full roll-out of green hydrogen. Belgium’s strategic role as an industrial hydrogen hub for Western Europe also emerged in the debate.
Hydrogen, a link in the decarbonisation of the economy
Green hydrogen is produced by electrolysis of water with renewable energy. The EU considers green hydrogen as a key lever to providing clean, affordable and safe energy in the transition to a lower CO2-emitting economy. Harnessing the potential of sustainable H2 is both promising and complex. Nevertheless, with the situation in Ukraine, high inflation and the energy crisis, we have a momentum we can use to accelerate that transition.
The role of the EU: co-regulating and co-financing
Europe supports the roll-out of green hydrogen mainly in two areas. First of all, the European Union is working on clear market and industry regulation. For example, sustainability quotas for transport and industry can boost the market. In addition, legal certainty is very important to attracting private investors to urgently build out many high-tech infrastructures.
The EU taking the lead with concrete actions and project financing. This does not detract from the fact that around 40% of private investment is required. These funds should be relatively easy to access, as they are actually small amounts compared to the current investments in conventional fuels. Companies such as Engie and DEME are already financing large projects and are prepared to do even more if a long-term perspective is available. Sufficient incentive is required so that demand also increases on the user side, too. Achieving all goals requires cooperation between all stakeholders, both inside and outside the Union.
Belgium's assets as a hub for sustainable molecules
In Europe, we remain dependent on countries that can produce sustainable hydrogen cheaply. It is therefore of strategic importance to diversify the supply of hydrogen and other sustainable molecules. Belgium has many assets for import and export, storage and processing of green hydrogen as a hub for Western Europe.
Belgium is centrally located in a stable region and has large ports serving the hinterland. In addition, our country already has a strong CO2 and H2 network and benefits from offshore capacity with its location in the North Sea.
Hydrogen infrastructure financing
For the financing of hydrogen, we can draw a strong parallel with the early years of offshore wind power. At that time, we also had a lot of questions, but today the framework for wind power is clear. Hydrogen will go through the same evolution. As soon as there is a level playing field, investments will follow. To this end, BNP Paribas Fortis can offer well-known financial products.
The five speakers represent the European Commission, science, an H2 producer from the maritime sector, the energy industry and finance.
Hydrogen and Innovation Policy Officer at the EU Commission (DG CLIMA: Directorate-General for Climate Action)
Professor at University of Antwerp & holder BNP Paribas Fortis Chair Transport, Logistics and Ports
General Manager Hydrogen at DEME (dredging, land reclamation, offshore energy)
Solutions and Partnerships Manager at ENGIE
Energy, Resources and Infrastructure at BNP Paribas Fortis
CO2 Value fully commits to a carbon-free economy
From sustainable footpaths to fashionable dress to sophisticated e-fuel. At their annual meeting, CO2 Value, a partner organisation of BNP Paribas Fortis, illustrated very concretely how carbon capture and utilisation can help defossilise the economy.
It’s simple, in fact. Forests and oceans can absorb CO2 that is released. But fossil fuel combustion, industry and land use create so much CO2 that nature can no longer handle that absorption. The result is global warming. So we need to reduce CO2 emissions and use more renewable energy. That solution is unfortunately less straightforward in practice, although there are already many promising technologies to accelerate decarbonisation. And that is exactly what CO2 Value Europe is working towards.
Circular carbon economy
CO2 Value Europe, a partner organisation of BNP Paribas Fortis, is an inter-professional organisation representing the Carbon Capture & Utilisation (CCU) community in Europe. It strives for a circular carbon economy. It seeks alternative ways and technologies to capture CO2 and then recycle it into usable sustainable raw materials for fuels, chemicals and building materials, among others.
Crash course in CCU
The audience at this year's sixth edition of CO2 Value's annual meeting was just a little more diverse than usual. Besides members, interested companies and clients of BNP Paribas Fortis were also able to attend the meeting. And they did so in large numbers. Carbon capture and utilisation is a hot topic. A lot of companies are facing a sustainable transition and want to decarbonise. Attendees were given a crash course in 'What is CCU?', but it was mainly the concrete applications that really appealed.
VITO, a Flemish independent research organisation in the field of cleantech and sustainable development, gave an example of how CO2 mineralisation can make the construction sector more sustainable. This technology not only leads to lower CO2 emissions, but permanently stores carbon dioxide in valuable products such as bricks and many other building materials. In Ghent, for example, there is already a footpath made of sustainable bricks.
Dress to impress
CCU can also make a difference in the fashion sector, LanzaTech proves. They convert carbon waste into sustainable fuels, fabrics, packaging and other products that people use in their daily lives. One of these is a synthetic fibre to make clothes that are sustainable without sacrificing anything in terms of comfort or style.
Fossil fuels remain a major source of CO2. With the Colombus project, Engie, Carmeuse and John Cockerill are joining forces. They are developing an alternative fuel that will help decarbonise industry and the transport sector. CO2 released during lime production is captured by Carmeuse and then combined with green hydrogen from Engie. Based on this, John Cockerill produces carbon-neutral synthetic methane or e-methane via electrolysis as an alternative to fossil fuels. This is a great example of a circular carbon economy.
As a partner from the very beginning, BNP Paribas Fortis is 100% behind CO2 Value's mission. Sustainability is in the bank's DNA, so we certainly encourage a new circular and industrial value chain. As a banker, we take our responsibility seriously and are happy to help develop innovative solutions that make our economy more resilient and sustainable.
Want to know more? Visit the CO2 Value Europe website.
“Our efforts to support the green transition depend on our banking partners”
Every day, people around the world are pushing the boundaries to build a sustainable economy while also harnessing digital technology. A good example is Luc Vandenbulcke, CEO of marine services group DEME, who is confident that he can help provide solutions to the problem of climate change.
To say that DEME is a pioneer in the field of offshore wind power only tells half the story. In the last few decades, the group has invested both in giant ships that are used to build wind farms, and in the farms themselves. Today, it has almost 400 wind turbines operating off the coast of Belgium, producing 2.3 gigawatts of power, the equivalent of two nuclear plants and enough to cover the electricity needs of half of Belgium’s homes.
Leading the way in hydrogen
DEME now wants to extend its pioneering role into hydrogen, the fuel of the future. Luc Vandenbulcke explains: “It’s easy to produce using electrolysis, splitting water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen using electricity. If you use green electricity to do that, you get a totally fossil-free source of energy that is easy to transport and store using existing gas infrastructure. And if you react hydrogen with other molecules, you can produce green fuels and other basic materials.”
DEME is also backing offshore hydrogen production. “This is attractive in areas where direct demand for energy is low, such as coastal areas and remote islands. We’re also likely to target areas where there’s a lot of wind and sun, like Oman, where we convert hydrogen into methanol and ammonia, which we transport to the West by boat. Because the Middle East offers excellent conditions in terms of sun and wind, production costs are low and this offsets the high transportation costs.”
“Compared with oil, green hydrogen is a financially intensive product. You need a lot more technology to produce it, and without subsidies you won’t find any customers. The business model is much more complex, and banks must play their part within it. We rely on project finance provided by our partners, and BNP Paribas Fortis in particular. We’re always talking to the Sustainable Business Competence Centre, which provides a good sounding board. We’re lucky because we can rely on our shared experience in offshore wind power.”
At BNP Paribas Fortis, we are particularly proud to support passionate and inspiring companies like DEME. Working together to forge new ways of doing business: another example of Positive Banking.
How North Sea Port is becoming the port of the future
Every day, determined men and women are pushing back boundaries and helping to build a sustainable and digital economy. Such as the board of the Belgian-Dutch North Sea Port, which considers the sustainability of the 525 companies on its premises as a top priority.
North Sea Port was created in 2018 following the merger of the Ghent, Terneuzen and Vlissingen seaports. Its central location makes it a crucial logistics hub for Europe. This key transport player takes its social responsibility to reduce the ecological footprint of the port industry very seriously.
“We encourage companies on our site to use as many solar panels and wind turbines as possible,” says CEO Daan Schalck. “Together they are already producing more than 400 megawatts of energy. You can equate that with the capacity of a small nuclear power station.”
North Sea Port has also chosen for circularity. “The residual flows released from industry are also valuable raw materials,” says Schalck. Captured CO2, for example, is used for carbonic acid in sparkling drinks and for heating greenhouses and warehouses.
Of course, the port wants to keep emissions as low as possible in the first place. “Clean ships that dock here receive a discount on their berthing fees,” continues Schalck. “Inland vessels can also purchase green electricity, so they do not have to run their diesel engines for electricity.”
“We also encourage transport to and from the port area to come via inland waterways and railways as much as possible. To this end, we are investing with various partners in, among other things, loading docks, locks and train connections. This will not only lead to less CO2 emissions, but also to less congestion on our roads.”
Hydrogen is also an important part of the transition to a low-CO2 economy. In the port area, 60 hectares are being set aside for the construction of electrolysis plants by companies such as Ørsted, VoltH2 and Air Liquide. They will extract hydrogen from water using green electricity.
North Sea Port is also facilitating North-C-Methanol, a project that will convert water into green hydrogen via wind energy. Another factory will then use this to transform the captured CO2 from local industry into green methanol. This will reduce CO2 emissions by 140,000 tonnes annually.
North Sea Port itself has been setting a good example of sustainable entrepreneurship for years. Daan Schalck: “We have had a passive office since 2005. We also introduced a mobility budget long before there were any tax incentives. And the footprint of our ships and cars has decreased by more than 60 percent in ten years.”
“As one of our two principal bankers, BNP Paribas Fortis is fully aligned with our vision and strategy. The bank has even committed to being our long-term partner for the refinancing of the port authority over the next ten years.”
Entrepreneurial success stories
At BNP Paribas Fortis, we are particularly proud to support pioneering and inspiring companies like North Sea Port. Working together to forge new ways of doing business: another example of Positive Banking.
A cookie cut from sustainable dough
Every day, determined men and women are pushing back boundaries and helping to build a sustainable and digital economy. "We’ve been supplying raw materials to bakers, patissiers and chocolatiers for more than a hundred years," explains Jean-Philippe Michaux, Finance Director at Puratos.
It all started in 1919 in a garage in the municipality of Laeken, Brussels. In the meantime, we have just recently opened our 81st foreign branch and serve bakers, patissiers and chocolatiers – industrial and small-scale players – in 120 countries.'
Despite its international presence, Puratos remains a family business in which two Belgian families and one Spanish family are the main shareholder. 'Innovation and sustainability have been part of our DNA from the start," says Michaux. "'More than sixty years ago, Puratos was the first manufacturer of bread improvers. And since then, we have been constantly innovating. About 2.4% of our profit annually is spent on Research and Development (R&D)."
Michaux takes us to the R&D department. "Here, on 6,000 square meters, 500 researchers – mostly bioengineers – work daily to improve our products. Worldwide, one in nine of our more than nine thousand employees is active in R&D. Why are they necessary? Have you ever tried to bake a loaf or cake yourself? Then you know how difficult it is. For instance, a beautiful gâteaux with several layers of fruit on top. If you don't pay attention, it will collapse (he laughs)."
"Moreover, we are also developing solutions for industrial applications. In the patisserie, for example, you cannot simply multiply your ingredients and apply the same procedure."
Both the shareholders and the management of Puratos are committed to the long term: a horizon of twenty years is nothing exceptional. "It is the only way to be able to run a sustainable business. Our work is based on six pillars: a sustainable procurement policy, health, heritage, people, communities and the environment."
"We opt for a sustainable procurement policy and select reliable suppliers of fruit, cocoa, palm oil and animal products whose value chain we can trace ethically. We are particularly proud of Cacao-Trace, our sustainability programme for cocoa. The ongoing efforts of Cacao-Trace benefit all of us, and in particular the cocoa farmers, as we pay them a quality premium directly. This also ensures that we have chocolate with a superior taste. Cocoa farmers also receive a chocolate bonus of 10 cents per kilo of chocolate sold. This is very transparent. This win-win programme was recently funded with the help of our long-term partner BNP Paribas Fortis."
Puratos is also committed to the well-being of local communities. "In third-world countries, for example, we have set up a network of bakery schools where we provide young people with proper training. They can put their newly acquired skills to use in one of our branches or at a partner company," explains Michaux proudly. "'And that initiative didn't come from management, but from our employees. Because sustainable business practices are something we all work on."
"As a supplier to the food sector, we can contribute to the health of consumers worldwide by focusing on, for example, fewer sugars and less fat, without compromising on taste. A good example is the Vita+ bread with sprouted seeds. In fact, healthy bakery mixes have a very long tradition. Puratos launched the nutritious Elfi bread back in 1932."
"If we're not careful, we will evolve towards a white, tasteless kind of bread. A few years ago, we brainstormed about the future of bread. And what conclusion did we reach? That we have to look back at the past, at authentic tastes. This is why we started collecting local sourdoughs all over the world, and we kept them in three different places in a sourdough library. This ensures the survival of the biodiversity of bread."
Finally, Michaux points out the important pillar, 'environment'. Earlier this year, Puratos took out a EUR 75 million sustainability loan from BNP Paribas Fortis, the cost of which is linked to achieving the proposed annual C02reduction. "Our ambition is to be C02neutral by 2025, a heavy investment, but this will pay off in the long term. We are doing this by adding solar panels to our roofs, for example. We are building wind turbines where possible. And in Belgium, we are evolving towards maintaining a fully electric or hybrid fleet."
Entrepreneurial success stories
At BNP Paribas Fortis, we are particularly proud to support passionate and inspiring entrepreneurs like … Working together to forge new ways of doing business: another example of Positive Banking.
- Sustainable Future Forum: Belgium as a hub for green hydrogen and the role of the EU
- CO2 Value fully commits to a carbon-free economy
- “Our efforts to support the green transition depend on our banking partners”
- How North Sea Port is becoming the port of the future
- A cookie cut from sustainable dough