A prominent Dutch professor who advocates for hydrogen heating and the conversion of gas pipelines to transport hydrogen has been secretly funded by a trade body representing gas network operators, according to local media.

Hydrogen: hype, hope and the hard truths around its role in the energy transition
Will hydrogen be the skeleton key to unlock a carbon-neutral world? Subscribe to the weekly Hydrogen Insight newsletter and get the evidence-based market insight you need for this rapidly evolving global market

Ad van Wijk’s part-time work at Dutch technical university TU Delft, for two days per week, was financed from 2016-21 by Netbeheer Nederland, the trade association for electricity and gas network operators in the Netherlands, despite the funding not being mentioned in the scores of scientific papers co-authored by the professor, according to Dutch newspaper Het Financieele Dagblad.

Van Wijk has appeared frequently in international media and at conferences around the world in recent years, as well as a consultant to Hydrogen Europe, and has become known in the Netherlands as a “hydrogen professor”, the newspaper says.

Van Wijk tells Hydrogen Insight that he was not secretly paid to lobby for hydrogen. “On the contrary, I have been the one that has initiated in the Netherlands, Europe and the MENA region the role for hydrogen in a sustainable energy system... I have done my research always independent... and was certainly not influenced by Netbeheer Nederland.”

While arguing for a “hydrogen economy”, van Wijk has advocating for the Dutch government to play a major role in converting gas networks to transport hydrogen, partly to enable H2 to be used in heating.

With natural gas needing to be phased out over the coming decades for the sake of the climate, gas network operators must ensure that their infrastructure can be switched to run on hydrogen — otherwise they don’t have a business.

“Hydrogen is going to become more important. However, the realisation has not yet sufficiently sunk in that the government must take the lead. Just like with other infrastructure such as our roads, education and, of course, the electricity and natural gas grid in the past,” he told Dutch business website Mtsprout.nl last year.

He added: “In all modesty, I am somewhat the architect of the European hydrogen plans that [European Commission vice-president] Frans Timmermans and [Timmermans’ head of cabinet] Diederik Samsom have drawn up.”

While at least 37 independent studies have shown that there will be no significant role for hydrogen in the heating of buildings, van Wijk argues for homes to have both heat pumps and “a boiler that runs on hydrogen to help out when it freezes”.

According to Het Financieele Dagblad, TU Delft — where van Wijk works part-time as a professor of future energy systems — now acknowledges that it should have been clear on the sponsorship, as the Dutch Scientific Integrity Code of Conduct states that scientists must be “open and complete” about external financiers and possible conflicts of interest.

The university could not provide any examples of publications where his financing is mentioned, said the newspaper, even though he authored or co-authored more than 100 scientific papers from 2016-21, according to Google Scholar.

The university says there was a limited chance of a conflict of interest: “This is a trade association with a large number of players from the energy sector. The chance of a conflict of interest with an individual company is therefore much smaller.”

The award-winning academic tells Hydrogen Insight: “My professorship has been sponsored for five years by Netbeheer Nederland, that was not a secret at all. At the time the sponsorship started it was not known to me, and the university has not instructed me that I have to mention this in articles, etc. The university has not put it on my personal profile on the website, etc. I have never thought about this [sic] topics. With the knowledge and discussions of today it is clear that more transparency is needed. However that is in hindsight.”

He told Het Financieele Dagblad: “They didn't say: you have to go into the world with hydrogen. I put it on the map, not the other way around.”

This article was updated to include comments from Professor van Wijk.