As refiners and chemicals producers look for ways to decarbonise their operations, the move to more sustainable forms of hydrogen production is increasingly seen as low-hanging fruit. In Europe certainly, where electricity prices remain under pressure, and as hydrogen technology improves, various forms of electrolysis are becoming more competitive as a business proposition, quite apart from their beneficial environmental potential.
Last year Royal Dutch Shell announced plans to install a large-scale, 10-MW electrolyser at its Wesseling refinery site within the Rheinland Refinery Complex – at the time heralded as the largest of its kind in Germany and the largest PEM electrolyser in the world. In addition to supplying the refinery, the scale of the plant would also open up new commercial supply options within Europe.
Hot on its heels, the latest proposed project comes courtesy of products producer AkzoNobel Specialty Chemicals and the New Energy unit of Dutch gas transport group Gasunie. The two have mooted a partnership to build a 20-MW hydrogen electrolysis plant at Delfzijl in the Netherlands, which would use clean electricity to generate the renewable fuel.
A 20-MW plant would be sufficient to generate around 3,000 tpy of hydrogen. AkzoNobel told InnovOil that output would be used by its specialty chemicals division or could be sold to third parties, such other chemical companies or public transport companies using hydrogen buses. Both companies will look for potential buyers in the coming months, it added.
If built, the partners said the 20-MW site would be Europe’s largest electrolysis facility, and would dwarf the Netherlands’ current largest project – the planned 1-MW HyStock electrolysis pilot at Groningen, also developed by Gasunie and its subsidiary EnergyStock. The latter site was chosen in part because of nearby salt caverns which also offer a potential storage option; it will be powered by solar electricity.
By no means limiting their horizons, AkzoNobel and Gasunie have said that their eventual aim would be to build larger installations to convert and store the gas, opting for plant sizes of 100 MW and above.
Although it could not provide a firm figure, total investment in the project would be somewhere in the “tens of millions”, AkzoNobel said. A final decision on the 20-MW scheme is expected in 2019.
AkzoNobel Specialty Chemicals energy director Marcel Galjee noted the effects this could have on production of the fuel and the country’s overall emissions profile: “The vast majority of the more than 800,000 tonnes of hydrogen used by Dutch industry each year is produced using natural gas. Replacing this by sustainably produced hydrogen will reduce CO2 emissions by seven million tonnes. However, the real potential is in large-scale production as the basis for green chemistry.”
Galjee is also confident that the experience of the two companies in chemicals production and in gas transport and storage should prove complimentary. “Only with far-reaching change of its industrial activities can the Netherlands achieve the international climate targets. During this transition, new value chains and revenue models can emerge across sectors through collaboration between companies,” he added.
Ulco Vermeulen, a member of Gasunie’s executive board, sees the project as a vital part of the country’s decarbonisation strategy: “We see ‘power to gas’ not only as a promising technology, but also as one that will be necessary to achieve a fully sustainable energy mix by 2050. Hydrogen also plays a crucial role in achieving the emission reduction target set by the Dutch government for 2030… To make sure we have enough hydrogen in 2030, we will need to take steps now to validate the technology at different scales.”