Shell Invests in Rhineland Hydrogen
Shell and UK manufacturer ITM Power said January 18 they will build the world’s largest hydrogen electrolysis plant at its Rhineland refinery, at Wesseling near Cologne in Germany, at a cost of €20mn. Unlike previous ITM projects in Germany, this won't be a 'power to gas' project. However it underscores Shell's growing interest in the green economy.
With a peak capacity of 10 megawatts, hydrogen produced will be used to process and upgrade oil products at the refinery, as well as testing the technology and exploring application in other sectors. Electrolysis is the process of using electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.
Shell's refinery currently uses 180,000 metric tons (mt) of hydrogen annually, produced by steam reforming from natural gas. The new facility will be able to produce an additional 1,300 mt/yr hydrogen. The Wesseling electrolysis unit will cost €20mn, inclusive of a 50% grant from EU funds. “If powered by renewable electricity, the green hydrogen will help reduce the carbon intensity of the site,” said Shell, which already in 2015 hired ITM as a contractor to supply hydrogen refuelling stations on three Shell UK motor fuel retail forecourts. Shell last month also flagged its entry into the UK household energy market.
ITM has worked in 'Power to Gas' systems
Sheffield-based ITM Power has well-established ties with Germany however. In 2013 a small hydrogen electrolysis unit that it supplied to German energy supplier Mainova and network partner NRM was the first to inject neat hydrogen into Germany’s gas distribution system. It formed the first commissioning phase of launching a ‘power-to-gas’ unit in 2014 for German energy group Thuga and a dozen partners in Frankfurt-am-Main. In 2015 the small unit was qualified to enter Germany’s gas balancing market.
Power-to-gas (PTG) can use either inject the hydrogen produced into a gas network, or methanise it by combining hydrogen with carbon dioxide to produce a synthetic natural gas that can then be added to a gas network. On the continent, Germany's Uniper and Dutch state gas infrastructure operator Gasunie have in recent years made investments in either or both PTG variants, not always with ITM as partner. Two months ago though ITM said it had secured UK government funding, as part of a joint collaboration since January that year with Northern Gas Networks (NGN), to study the potential deployment of large-scale PTG energy storage system in Britain.
Gasunie sees growth in Dutch low CO2 energy use
In an energy outlook to 2050 on January 17, Gasunie said there could be much more of a role for wind energy and hydrogen than it previously assumed: "Post-2030, more and more sustainable hydrogen, obtained from North Sea wind energy, will enter the energy mix. This is facilitated by the fact that infrastructure has already become available in the period prior to this due to the emergence of CO2-free hydrogen from natural gas. In that kind of hydrogen, the CO2 is separated off after the extraction of the gas and stored under the seabed." It also said there would be much less natural gas used in Dutch homes, more used in large power plants (given the government's decision to halt coal-firing in 2030), and thus more CO2 reductions - in part through carbon capture and storage schemes.