10-MW production unit will supply Wesseling refinery as operator looks to test new technologies.
As InnovOil has already explored this year, hydrogen technologies are becoming a new target for the oil and gas industry. Whether as a fuel for transport, or more recently in power-to-gas applications, refiners especially are seeing opportunities. Moreover, no longer is steam methane reformation (SMR) the sole means of producing the gas cost-effectively.
Major operators are joining the trend. This month Royal Dutch Shell, together with ITM Power, announced plans to install a large-scale electrolyser to produce hydrogen at its Wesseling refinery site, within the Rheinland Refinery Complex. With a 10-MW capacity, the unit would be the largest of its kind in Germany and the world’s largest polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) electrolyser.
The project will be undertaken by local subsidiaries Shell Deutschland Oil and Shell Energy Europe, alongside consortium partners ITM Power, SINTEF, thinkstep and Element Energy, all of whom have been invited to the preparation of a grant agreement by the European Fuel Cells and Hydrogen 2 Joint Undertaking (FCH 2 JU), following a competitive call for proposals.
A step into the future At present, the refinery uses approximately 180,000 tpy of hydrogen across its various plant processes. It is currently produced either as a by-product of the refining process or through SMR. The intention is to power the 10-MW electrolysis unit using renewable electricity, with a view to producing CO2-free hydrogen for use in the Rheinland Refinery.
“The envisaged hydrogen electrolysis would be a step into the future – opening the door to many new development options for the refinery,” said Shell Rhineland Refinery general manager Dr Thomas Zengerly. “This project would allow us to test new technologies in the refinery context” he added.
Its location will also allow the refinery to expand its facilities to supply hydrogen to potential new commercial customers outside the refinery.
In a statement, ITM Power CEO Dr Graham Cooley added: “Decarbonising hydrogen production in the chemical and refining industries worldwide is potentially a very large market. This pioneering project with Shell aims to demonstrate what can be achieved using our industrial-scale electrolysers which can also use low-cost renewable energy and help to balance electricity grids.”
The company has already deployed a number of power-to-gas systems, including a 150-kW installation at an RWE site at Ibbenbüren in North Rhine Westphalia and another at a Thüga-operated plant in Frankfurt.
ITM’s modular HGas units are housed in standard ISO containers and are available at power ratings from 70 to 1,030 kW, the largest of which will produce 462kg of hydrogen per day, at 20 bar or 80 bar. Based on those calculations, InnovOil estimates that a 10-MW facility such as Shell’s could produce up to 4.5 tonnes of hydrogen per day, or around 1.6 million tpy (if operating at full capacity), although ITM was not immediately able to confirm these production figures.