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PE Live: Hydrogen set for widespread industrial use

Technology for using hydrogen to reduce CO2 emissions is proven and large-scale projects are in development across power, steelmaking and maritime fuels among many sectors

Hydrogen will be central to reducing CO2 emissions across power generation and many industrial sectors as it becomes cheaper and more widely available over the next decade, a panel of experts agreed on a PE Live 8 webcast last week.

Generating power from fossil fuels, including natural gas, is a leading source of CO2 emissions. Its concentration in plants at mass scale makes the power generation sector particularly suitable for the integration of hydrogen to reduce its footprint.

While the ultimate aim is likely to be renewables and green hydrogen—certainly in the view of the European Commission strategy announced this month—there are many intermediate steps that would drastically reduce emissions. These include blending blue hydrogen, produced via steam methane reforming and utilising carbon capture and storage (CCS), into natural gas.

“Our idea for a smooth transition from fossil generation is the introduction of blue hydrogen for use in power equipment,” says Christian Bergins, strategic marketing manager, new technologies, Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems (MHPS). “In addition to this, there will be a steady increase of green hydrogen, using green electricity, which of course needs more time because we also have to add more renewable energy production to the market.”

“But we assume that at first we would start using blue hydrogen co-combusting in combined-cycle plants, and also in fuel cells. And then, in the long term, as more and more hydrogen is available to be used, also in 100pc hydrogen firing in gas turbines.”

MHPS acknowledges that the development of blue and green hydrogen will take place at a different pace in each region of the world and that generating energy from renewable sources and storing it in batteries may be more suitable for small-scale applications such as in vehicles, buildings and light industry.

“Our idea for a smooth transition from fossil generation is the introduction of blue hydrogen for use in power equipment" Bergins, MHPS

“There is not really one silver bullet serving the transition to a zero-carbon energy system—so we have a lot of technologies which have to work together,” says Bergins.

Significant government incentives are being offered by certain countries to support green hydrogen, and several oil and gas majors are investing to decarbonise using this route.

“I see green hydrogen projects developing rapidly over the next few years,” says Scott Greer, partner, King & Spalding, noting there are approximately 250MW of green hydrogen projects in existence. “McKinsey predicts by 2024 an additional 3,200MW of electrolysers dedicated to green hydrogen in the world, or essentially a near tenfold increase.”

Industrial use

Beyond power generation, industrial uses for hydrogen are proliferating. For many applications the technology has been proven for decades but the economic and political circumstances are now in place to support significant investments over the next ten years.

One area where hydrogen use could rise exponentially is in iron and steelmaking. Robert Millner, senior key expert, Primetals Technologies, says that “in the future, there are large potential savings on greenhouse gas emissions by use of H2.”

Over the next decade, he envisages hydrogen being increasingly blended into fuels in the process of direct reduction of iron ores. He says direct reduction is “the bridge technology for ironmaking as hydrogen becomes available at scale” and notes that existing direct reduction process can be converted to 100pc H2 as supply evolves.

“When hydrogen is abundant and cheaply available, the plant can be to converted to 100pc H2 or, in the case of a new plant, the process can be simplified,” he adds. Another technology is the use of hydrogen in the blast furnace, reducing the use of coking coal and significantly decreasing CO2 emissions.

Plans for the use of hydrogen are also well-developed in some unexpected places. “We are definitely seeing innovative new uses of hydrogen emerge,” says Greer. “This includes using hydrogen to reduce sulphur content in marine bunker fuel.”

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) mandated the use of fuel with a maximum of 0.5pc sulphur content starting from 1 January 2020. Marine fuel accounts for 5pc of global oil demand and 70,000 vessels worldwide are affected by the new rules, according to Greer.

3,200MW – Electrolysers dedicated to green hydrogen by 2024

Commentators typically discuss three options, he says: installing expensive onboard scrubbers to remove sulphur; converting ships to LNG; and using low-sulphur fuel oil, although “refineries are not currently incentivised to produce this in large quantities”.

“The fourth way is using hydrogen,” says Greer. “We are working on a project in the Houston Ship Channel in Texas, sponsored by energy partners and backed by an energy infrastructure partner, which is using a hydrotreater to reduce the sulphur in the marine bunker fuel from 3.5pc sulphur to the IMO standard of 0.5pc.

“The project is in development and we are expected to reach a financial investment decision in the very near future. It is notably the first purpose-built project in the world to hydrotreat high sulphur fuel oil and IMO2020 compliant fuel.”

King & Spalding also works on renewable diesel fuel projects. It has recently closed a deal for Global Clean Energy in California and is working on another for a client in Texas.

“These projects also use hydrotreaters,” he says. “In these projects the feedstock is a renewable, organic material such as vegetable oils. The cool thing about this is that is a ‘drop-in fuel’, meaning you could fill up your diesel power vehicle with a 100pc renewable diesel fuel without any requirement for blending, unlike traditional biodiesel or ethanol.”

PE Live webcasts on the uses and production of decarbonised hydrogen, PE Live 8 and PE Live 9 respectively, are available on demand here.

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