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‘The Netherlands’ hydrogen ambassador in Denmark

16/11/2018

We often speak about how hydrogen needs more ambassadors to spread knowledge about the possibilities with hydrogen in the green transition. In Denmark, one person took this literally; and that is why the Dutch ambassador in Denmark, Henk Swarttouw, now drives a hydrogen car as his official embassy car.

‘We wanted to make a statement to show that we take the green transition seriously,’ the Dutch ambassador says when we meet at the embassy, ‘even though it almost went wrong on one the first days we had the car.’ The ambassador is not referring to the prejudice that is still clinging to hydrogen cars about them potentially being explosive, even though he has heard about safety concerns. Swarttouw: “Many people ask me if the car is safe. Of course it is safe, I am not worried at all.”

What did almost do the ambassador in, was the fact that he couldn’t hear the car approaching when he was making his way over to the office. “My driver was right behind me in the hydrogen car, but due to its silent motor, I had not heard that the car was so close behind me, which nearly caused me to be run over by it,” Henk Swarttouw explains smilingly.

Embassy-potential
In the beginning of this year, Swarttouw was on the look-out for a new embassy car, because the embassy has a rule that their official cars can be replaced after six years. ”Our old car was a diesel car, but I wanted our new car to be a green one,” Swarttouw says, “I am after all stationed in a country that is miles ahead to many other European countries when it comes to green energy. That is why I thought it was an excellent idea to invest in a sustainable car, which at the same time had ‘embassy potential’.”

With this, Swarttouw means that he on a regular basis is the host for important guests and delegations, such as the Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, and therefore, the car should not only be green but also have a certain level of class.

That Swarttouw would be the first diplomat to drive a hydrogen car, a Toyota Mirai in this case, he was not aware of: “I just want to support the development of hydrogen technology, because I believe it has great potential. Add the fact that Denmark with its 10 hydrogen refueling stations has a national network of refueling stations, so we are able to cross the entire country without running out of hydrogen.”

Active participant in green transition
The purchase of the car was approved by the Dutch foreign ministry, even though the hydrogen car was a little over budget. “The ministry was supportive of my arguments about sustainability and about how we could set an example. The Netherlands and Denmark cooperate when it comes to green energy, for example regarding off shore wind, and it would therefore be a very positive signal when we as an embassy could show we are actively aiding the green transition. We also wanted to make it clear that we, both in the Netherlands and in Denmark, believe in making the transport sector greener by adapting a zero-emission car.”

Vulnerable network
The hydrogen car has not disappointed the ambassador: “It’s a smooth ride and the lack of noise makes for great quality driving, both in the city as on the motor way.” Despite his positive experiences with the hydrogen car, Swarttouw admits that he has also experienced inconveniences with the car: “The network of refueling stations is vulnerable. If one of the stations is down, either because of technical problems or because there is no hydrogen in the station, you quickly get into trouble.”

The ambassador especially remembers one incident, which occurred on one of their first longer trips with the hydrogen car, where the ambassador and his driver drove to Silkeborg in Jutland from Copenhagen, which is about a 300-kilometer drive. “We had not much hydrogen left in our tank and when we arrived at the only refueling station, it was not in operation,” Swarttouw remembers. “It was a very unpleasant situation and I became rather stressed out at that point.” Fortunately, the problem was solved, and the ambassador could continue his journey.

This highlights the teething troubles that the hydrogen infrastructure faces, according to Swarttouw: “The network of refueling stations is not mature yet. When there are only 10 stations, we can’t afford them to be out of operation. That is why the supply of hydrogen to the stations should be organized better.”

Despite these logistical and practical problems, Swarttouw is not deterred from using the hydrogen car: “It’s part of the deal when you choose to be an early adopter. We can clearly see hydrogen’s potential and I look forward to keep supporting the hydrogen technology.”

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