Green refineries

NExBTL plant, Maasvlakte, © Neste Oil

In Wesseling, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s coal heartland, a new transportation era is dawning – at least if oil giant Shell has a say in it. “Petroleum products will continue to play an important role in the decades to come.

This project will allow us to make both clean fuels and petrochemicals,” Frans Dumoulin, the general manager of Rheinland Raffinerie, a Shell-owned refinery, was happy to announce in front of about 100 guests at the REFHYNE project’s groundbreaking ceremony in summer 2019. “We also intend to promote hydrogen in transportation and other sectors,” he promised. The refinery will soon install a 10-megawatt ITM Power PEM electrolyzer to produce 1,300 tons of green hydrogen a year.

A total of EUR 16 million will be invested in Shell’s flagship project and regional showcase located between Cologne and Bonn. The aim is to show hydrogen’s potential for fueling stations and thus for cars and buses. Projects such as REFHYNE enable Europe’s electrolyzer manufacturers to build systems meeting even the strictest continental refinery standards, said Bart Biebuyck, the executive director of the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking, a European public-private partnership. Clean hydrogen will also help lower the carbon footprint of industrial processes, he added.

The Hydrogen Potentials Map of March 2018, an IG BCE Innovationsforum Energiewende and petroleum association MWV prognosis, estimates that clean hydrogen would immediately lower transportation-induced fuel emissions by around 104 grams of carbon dioxide per megajoule. This even exceeds regulatory carbon offsets, which credit only up to 91 grams of carbon dioxide per megajoule.

Needed: One or two gigawatts electrolyzer capacity

The savings are worth it. Refineries generate about 20 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions in Germany’s industrial sector. In 2015, about 40 percent of the hydrogen produced nationwide was used to refine crude oil, according to a study published by dena, the German Energy Agency. In all, 78 percent of the hydrogen is produced at the refinery itself with 22 percent coming from external sources, i.e. natural gas reformers. According to dena, the green variant saves 9 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per ton of hydrogen, a relatively low-cost way to significantly reduce petroleum products’ and fuels’ carbon footprint. “Replacing all fossil fuel hydrogen in refinery processes with clean hydrogen requires an electrolyzer capacity of up to 150,000 tons a year, that is 1 to 2 gigawatts.“

read more in H2-international August 2020

Niels Hendrik Petersen

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