By: Karin Postelmans
"Technology needs to be higher on the political and industrial agenda because that will help to accelerate transitions.” That was the call made by TU Delft student Noa Ommering during the Techrede in 2020. Afterwards, she felt a gnawing sense of urgency. Joining forces with other TU Delft students, she set up the Drivers of Technology. She also launched the ‘Hydrogen Board’ (Waterstofschap), an alliance that aims to break down barriers for hydrogen applications. Merel Oldenburg, a fellow Driver of Technology, also signed up and worked on the plans for the Hydrogen Board.
‘My fascination for Energy knows no bounds'
After the Techrede (the technology equivalent of the King's Speech to Parliament) Noa Ommering thought: "That’s great, but what action do we now take?" She wanted to do something relating to the energy transition. Ommering is studying Technology, Policy and Management and doing the Master's programme in Complex System Engineering and Management, specialising in Energy. “Energy is a wide-ranging subject. Hydrogen technology is already far advanced, but still has its challenges.” That’s how she came up with the idea for the Hydrogen Board. In order to reach out to more students and make a difference in structural terms, the group behind the Techrede set themselves up as the Drivers of Technology.
Ommering then embarked on a Transition Tour, visiting a range of organisations to find out the issues they face with hydrogen applications. “Legislation, regulations and subsidies are struggling to keep up or totally lacking," she discovered. “What’s more, the rules don’t compare fairly with those for fossil applications." For example, hydrogen has to be green (produced using renewable energy). These rules do not apply for electric cars. Plans for an H2 fuelling station were delayed by planning procedures that lasted for years. “That’s no way to meet the energy targets. It’s our future we’re talking about here.”
From Ommering’s perspective, all this could not have happened at a better time. As a small girl, she used to stare in fascination at the power plants in Rotterdam from the back of her parents’ car. For a school project, she even built a wind turbine, just to see if it was possible. “My fascination for energy knows no bounds. For me, the energy transition comes at just the right time. By the way, that wind turbine short-circuited once or twice."
Ommering also expects to see the Drivers of Technology have the occasional stumble. “But that’s something we’ll learn from. It’s the only way we can ensure hydrogen applications gain access to the market. The Delta Works also came about in fits and starts. And we’re proud of them now.”
“We need to liven things up. The clock is ticking"
After Ommering's Transition Tour, Merel Oldenburg organised a brainstorm session with TKI New Gas, hydrogen innovation cluster Kiemt and market pioneer HyMatters, to give more concrete shape to the Hydrogen Board. “I went around asking people: what are you going to do for our future? When you’re a young student, you can get away with that.”
Oldenburg is doing the Master's programme in Complex System Engineering and Management, specialising in Energy. She became a Driver of Technology after the year of coronavirus, 2020. “I like getting on with things, but everything went quiet on the extracurricular front. I missed the connection, something with substance. The Drivers of Technology could offer that.” Oldenburg particularly likes the way the Drivers are constructed, enabling her to focus totally on the Hydrogen Board. “There’s organisational support and training if needed."
Oldenburg's main aim with the Hydrogen Board is to speed up the implementation of hydrogen. “We need to liven things up. The clock is ticking.” There are so many different interests at stake, but you need to put your own interests aside in favour of the energy transition; making concessions for the greater good, she believes. And the chances are looking good. “I spoke to people who can really make a difference. When they really grasp what I’m trying to achieve ... that makes me very happy.”
Oldenburg also hopes that the Hydrogen Board will help young people to become involved in discussions about the role of hydrogen. She mentions a cross-sectoral working group representing twenty organisations and claiming ‘future human capital’ as an important theme – but without involving young people. “It could be so much better."
After her studies, Oldenburg is eager to play a professional role in the energy transition. “There’s plenty to do." Although she may be young and fresh at the moment, she suspects that things will ultimately become more routine. “In that case, the best thing that could happen to me would be for the new generation of students to turn to me. Asking what I am going to do for them.”
The Hydrogen Board: paving the way for hydrogen
Green hydrogen (produced using renewable energy) will be a vital ingredient in meeting the targets of the energy transition. But legislation and regulations and the rules on subsidies represent a huge barrier to hydrogen solutions. The Hydrogen Board finds that difficult to accept. That’s why, in 2021, Noa Ommering embarked on a Transition Tour, visiting government agencies, businesses, academics and civil-society organisations to find out about their experiences. She also brainstormed with twelve of them on potential solutions. Merel Oldenburg joined forces with TKI New Gas, Kiemt and HyMatters, to develop the result into plans. At the Techrede in 2021, the students presented their vision of how technology can boost various transitions, which players will be required for this and what inhibiting factors will need to be eradicated. Ommering: “The Hydrogen Board generates urgency and brings together people who can accelerate these transitions."