- Northwestern Europe will need to import green hydrogen to meet exponential demand. But there was no playbook for creating an end-to-end value chain.
- We designed a unique multi-carrier approach, laying foundations for a safe, cost-effective green hydrogen value chain.
- We honed a market for green hydrogen, building trust among stakeholders who’d assumed they were each other’s competition.
- We made a densely strategic project implementable, combining maverick expertise with knowing what makes people tick.
Green hydrogen has game-changing potential to decarbonise hard-to-abate industrial sectors, including steel and heavy transport. It’s a vital ingredient in European decarbonisation, meaning incumbent players and startups need to co-shape a groundbreaking import value chain.
Arno Flier, strategy consultant at The Strategy Office, led creation of the H2A consortium. Uniting Evos (Netherlands), Hydrogenious (Germany), Hysilabs (France), Electriq Global (Israel) and the Port of Amsterdam, it highlighted the latter as a future import hub for green hydrogen using carrier technologies.
Demand for green hydrogen in the Netherlands and Europe looks set to grow exponentially over the coming decades. Domestic production won’t be enough to meet it, as the green power needed for large-scale hydrogen production uses up too much space and energy. Northwestern Europe will need to import green hydrogen to meet demand and its decarbonisation goals.
But no one had ever designed an end-to-end value chain for transporting green hydrogen. We were moving into the unknown — and needed to convince a wide range of stakeholders to come along with us.
We began with a feasibility study on importing green hydrogen and carrier material via the Port of Amsterdam. We showed its existing terminal and nautical infrastructure, as well as that of Evos, is highly suitable for the task. It has the potential to import at least 1 million tons of carrier-based green hydrogen.
Theoretical stage: check. Now for the hard part.
Going where no one had gone before
There was no playbook for designing an end-to-end green hydrogen value chain. Mapping routes from areas with the abundant, cheap green energy needed to create green hydrogen through to clients who need it is an emerging fusion of energy, shipping and business:
Harnessing solar, wind, etc. energy
Producing green hydrogen with electrolysers
Adding it to carrier molecules viable for European inland transport (i.e., not the commonly used ammonia)
Loading carrier-based hydrogen onto ships at origin, unloading in the Port of Amsterdam
Transporting to clients
So the H2A consortium broke ground with a unique approach. Bundling multiple carrier technologies, we laid design foundations for a safe, cost-effective value chain.
The key combination of strategic and technical
We ran commercial and technical workstreams in parallel, as tying these strands together was the crux of this project’s success.
Commercially, our primary aim was to create a market for green hydrogen. It’s still in its infancy, as hardly any green hydrogen exists and it’s still eye-wateringly expensive. We spoke with potential green hydrogen producers and off-takers, honing the market dynamics.
Technically, we brought in an engineering firm to calculate the physical assets needed to unpack carrier molecules in the Port of Amsterdam. When it comes to structures as vast as jetties and ships, the devil is still very much in the detail.
To change things, you need a maverick at the table
Arno is a chemist by training, with expertise in both energy and the maritime/industrial sector. To use a Dutch phrase, he was exactly the 5-footed sheep this project needed.
Plus, traditional strategic analysis is one thing — and Arno has done it for 25 years. But getting into stakeholders’ minds and persuading them to move beyond counterproductive beliefs is quite another.
This people-oriented way Arno likes to work was essential to generating willingness and trust in a market which has no real rules yet. He needed to move incumbent businesses and startups towards a common goal, addressing and alleviating their need to protect their interests.
The incumbents know what they’re doing and have the infrastructure the value chain needs. But they also have a legacy business to protect. The startups developing carrier molecules have the technical research, yet lack the business acumen to market their products and expertise. They needed guidance to avoid the tunnel vision that lab-based work can lead to. PhDs know their tech is game-changing. But without the nouse to connect it to the market, it’s going nowhere fast.
Diffusing perceived tensions
Before the consortium brought them together, the startups involved had thought they were competitors. But Arno showed them that their product applications differed to the extent that they could actually complement each other’s market share.
It took time and effort to build this trust, guiding them slowly but surely to own their place in the H2A value chain. Without trust, you can’t do good business.
Lighting stakeholders’ path ahead
Turning this densely strategic project into an implementable value chain took blood, sweat and tears — but that’s what makes The Strategy Office different. Arno made sure he was disciplining himself to think ahead at every stage, so every stakeholder would see their path ahead.
He established and headed up the consortium for 2 years, handing over to H2A’s internal team to continue realising the value chain in-house. The project is set to extend over around a decade, with the official launch upcoming at the time of writing, bringing together green hydrogen off-takers, sourcing partners and policymakers.
For Arno’s first quarter century as a consultant, it wasn’t in his job description to care about where his analysis and strategy went next. But that started to feel empty. Solid strategy and a nice set of slides are one thing. But continuing down the path to build something real is what’s special. It’s the managerial, cultural and leadership aspects involved in this that so often go pear-shaped, stopping bold ideas from reaching their potential. That’s why they’re Arno’s focus now.