Shell launches giant green hydrogen plant in EU and US


Shell has just activated the EU’s largest green hydrogen plant, and it looks like the oil and gas giant could help spur the renewable H2 revolution here in the US as well. Better to increase quickly, however. Global demand for hydrogen has tripled since the 1970s and it has no other option but to increase.

Shell jumps on the green hydrogen train

Growing interest in hydrogen fuel cells threatens to add an additional burden to the global carbon footprint, despite all the good things you hear about hydrogen as a zero emission fuel.

Indeed, almost all of the world’s hydrogen supply comes from fossil natural gas, via a process of steam reforming. A movement is underway to reduce the carbon footprint of hydrogen by combining steam reforming and carbon capture. However, this still leaves the carbon footprint of the rest of the natural gas supply chain to be considered, including methane releases from drilling sites as well as leaks and breaks in the transmission, storage network. and distribution.

More sustainable sources of hydrogen are finally starting to emerge, including biomass, biogas, wastewater, plastic waste and electrolysis, which refers to the process of extracting hydrogen from water with an electric current. .

Now that the cost of renewable energies has fallen, electrolysis is gaining the attention of the main energy players. Shell is one of them, motivated by its interests in offshore wind.

The biggest green hydrogen plant for the EU, possibly one for the US too

Shell has built its new green hydrogen plant at its energy and chemical park in Rheinland, Germany, with the help of a consortium of hydrogen players and the EU Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking.

Billed as “the first to use this technology on such a large scale in a refinery,” the new smelter started up last week with a capacity of 10 megawatts. Plans are already underway to add an additional 90 megawatts.

“The Rheinland electrolyser will use renewable electricity to produce up to 1,300 tonnes of green hydrogen per year. This will initially be used to produce lower carbon intensity fuels. The green hydrogen will also be used to help decarbonise other industries, ”explains Shell.

Meanwhile, Shell has partnered with EDF Renewables to build a massive wind farm off the coast of New Jersey. The project includes plans for a 5 to 10 megawatt electrolysis installation and it just got the green light from the state Board of Public Utilities.

If all goes according to plan, Shell could take credit for the biggest green hydrogen plant in the US and the EU, but better to act fast. The fuel cell company Plug Power is already quickly moving towards renewable hydrogen, and energy players in several Western states are organizing around green hydrogen.

In a particularly intriguing indication of growing interest in the United States, Texas has launched a study to leverage its wind and solar resources to produce green hydrogen on a large scale.

Fuel cells or not, the demand for hydrogen increases, increases, increases

All of this is great news for fans of decarbonization, except that interest in fuel cells and other hydrogen applications is also increasing. If green hydrogen cannot keep up, the growing demand for hydrogen will bring tears of joy to natural gas players.

Last month the Columbia University Center for Global Energy Policy took a close look at the matter and noted that global demand for hydrogen tripled after 1975, reaching 70 metric tons in 2019.

In addition to fuel cells for vehicles and stationary power generation, the researchers noted that the main industrial applications of hydrogen are in petroleum refining and ammonia production, methanol production, and manufacturing of hydrogen. steel also playing an important role in global demand.

“Hydrogen or hydrogen-based fuels can also replace solid, liquid or gaseous fuels in heavy industry, especially in the production of chemicals, cement, glass and steel. Combustion of hydrogen can provide high quality, low carbon heat for industrial applications[5] (for example, fusion, gasification, drying or catalysis of chemical reactions) ”, they observe.

They also take note of an emerging trend in power generation, in which gas turbines run on a mixture of hydrogen and natural gas. There is also talk of blending hydrogen into the existing natural gas distribution system for residential and commercial purposes.

Green Hydrogen says you ain’t seen nothing yet

In other words, whether or not automakers can run fuel cell cars, the demand for hydrogen will increase as various industrial sectors seek to reduce the carbon footprint of their operations.

With that in mind, the race is on to bring the cost of green hydrogen down so low that no one will be interested in fossil hydrogen, even with carbon capture.

It could happen sooner rather than later. The US Department of Energy has chosen hydrogen as the primary focus for its new “Energy Earthshots” mission, which aims to pour a torrent of US R&D resources into areas of urgent need. Specifically, the goal is to reduce the cost of “clean” hydrogen to $ 1.00 per kilogram by 2030, from $ 5.00 per kilogram today.

Hydrogen Earthshot casts a wide net, so there is a lot of leeway for natural gas and carbon capture to emerge.

Or maybe not. Besides the falling cost of electrolysis equipment and renewable energy, other renewable hydrogen resources are starting to emerge and activity in the United States has started to pick up in recent months. Here is a quick look back at CleanTechnica resume in May:

“Here in the United States, the Wyoming company Raven SR has entered into a plan to upgrade waste to hydrogen with the New York State fuel cell company Hyzon which involves 100 hydrogen hubs scattered around the world. .

“Another US company converting waste to hydrogen with something in the works is Ways2H. Last March, the company and Japan Blue Energy Co., its shareholder and technical partner, announced the end of work on a installation for converting sewage sludge into hydrogen in Tokyo, targeting both fuel demand and power generation markets.

Another development came last fall, when researchers at Princeton University suggested that a method of extract hydrogen from brewery waste. This opens up all kinds of opportunities for the beverage and food processing industry.

The waste recovery angle is also at work at the University of Oxford, where a multinational research team has developed a microwave process for extract hydrogen from plastic waste. As an added bonus of further upcycling, the process also yields carbon nanotubes as a by-product.

In an interesting twist, the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory teamed up with Texaco (remember?) In 1995, on a project to extract hydrogen from municipal solid waste. It is not known where this project stands today, but last year LLNL produced a major report on ways California could achieve carbon neutral status, and the transformation of waste into hydrogen was in the pipeline. foreground.

Gasify biomass to make hydrogen for fuel and CO2 has the greatest promise of CO2 lowest withdrawal cost and aligns with the government’s objectives for renewable hydrogen, ”they concluded.

Hang on to your hats!

Follow me on twitter @TinaMCasey.

Photo (screenshot): Electrolysis plant for production renewable hydrogen from water, courtesy of Shell.

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