BP, Nouryon, and Port of Rotterdam explore green hydrogen via water electrolysis

May 9, 2019 |

From the Netherlands arrives the news that BP, Nouryon (formerly AkzoNobel Specialty Chemicals), and the Port of Rotterdam have joined forces to explore the opportunity of making ‘green hydrogen’ via water electrolysis for BP’s refinery in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, which has the potential for significant reductions in CO2 emissions.

The refinery currently uses hydrogen made from hydrocarbons, to desulphurize products. Replacing this entirely with green hydrogen produced from water using renewable energy could potentially result in a reduction of 350,000 tons of CO2 emissions per year based on current circumstances.

The project under consideration

The parties have signed a memorandum of understanding to study the feasibility of a 250-megawatt water electrolysis facility to produce up to 45,000 tons of green hydrogen yearly using renewable energy. It would be the largest of its kind in Europe.

Nouryon would build and operate the facility based on its leadership position in sustainable electrochemistry. The Port of Rotterdam would facilitate local infrastructure and investigate options for further development of a green hydrogen hub in the area. The partners intend to take a final investment decision on the project in 2022.

Reaction from the principals at BP, Nouryon and the Port of Rotterdam

Ruben Beens, CEO of BP Netherlands said: “BP is committed to advance a low carbon future. We have committed to reduce emissions in our operations, improve our products to help customers reduce their emissions and create low carbon businesses. The use of green hydrogen, made from water with renewable energy, has the potential to deliver significant emissions reductions at Rotterdam. Working with Nouryon and the Port of Rotterdam will allow us to explore and fully understand the technical, operational and financial dimensions of this potential opportunity.”

Knut Schwalenberg, Managing Director Industrial Chemicals at Nouryon, added: “This partnership builds on our expertise in electrolysis technology to open up new value chains. With green hydrogen, we can provide sustainable solutions to our customers ranging from low-carbon fuels and industrial processes to new forms of circular chemistry.”

Allard Castelein, CEO of the Port of Rotterdam, commented: “Development of large-scale electrolysers connected to offshore wind farms is vital for making solid progress with the new energy system in order to realize our climate goals. This 250-megawatt electrolyser is a key proof point that Rotterdam has the ability to be a frontrunner in the energy transition, which is an important differentiator for the port industry.”

New path to green hydrogen production via algae

In addition to this new project, there’s research afoot in the hydrogen field worth watching.

One comes with an awful lot of hype — the promise of an ““unlimited source of renewable energy” is mentioned, which sounds awesome until you consider that the Andromeda galaxy represents an even more unlimited source of renewable energy, and that’s there’s almost nothing of value in the phrase given that amount of energy locked up in a peach tree could power a civilization for weeks. But the Digest Dogs of Skepticism are getting ahead of the story, which is about an enzyme called hydrogenase which has been isolated from algae.

Lead researcher Katarzyna Sokół at St John’s College explains: “Hydrogenase is an enzyme present in algae that is capable of reducing protons into hydrogen. During evolution, this process has been deactivated because it wasn’t necessary for survival but we successfully managed to bypass the inactivity to achieve the reaction we wanted – splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen.” So, with this advance, solar energy, via photosynthesis, can be used to produce green hydrogen, which in turn is an important energy carrier, and can be used in stationary or mobile fuel cells. Check out the Toyota Mirai here, by the way.

The story summary is here and the underlying paper was published in Nature, here.

New pathway to green hydrogen via saltwater

Meanwhile, reporters working on the Stanford campus report on a new means to generate hydrogen fuel from saltwater instead of expensive and hard-to-fine purified water.

Here’s the problem in generating hydrogen via traditional water-splitting techniques, which use electric current to supply the energy for the reaction. The anodes simply corrode, and in fact they corrode faster when higher amounts of electric current are applied. In fact, they fall apart in as little as 12 hours.

But a Stanford team has found a new coating for the anode which repels chloride, making it possible to use cheap seawater with a system that can run for more than 1,000 hours, and handle up to 10 times more electric current. The more current, the faster rate for water splitting.

More about this advance, right here.

The DOE investing in hydrogen technology R&D

Meanwhile, the DOE is taking a lead and investing heavily in hydrogen’s future. Last month the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy released a Funding Opportunity Notice aimed at priorities in hydrogen among other topics.

Specifically, two of the five DOE funding topics will address hydrogen:

Topic 1: Gaseous Fuels Research and Technology Integration for Medium- and Heavy-duty Vehicles (up to $16.5 million) – This topic includes multiple sub-topics, including novel materials for high density gas storage and transport, advanced waste to energy technologies, and technology integration that focus on lowering the cost of and overcoming technical barriers to the use of medium- and heavy-duty natural gas and hydrogen fueled vehicles.

Topic 3: High Throughput Hydrogen Fueling Technologies for Medium- and Heavy-duty Transportation (up to $6 million) – Projects will develop technologies for fast-fill hydrogen storage and fueling components.

More on that FOA here.

Elsewhere in hydrogen

We noted recently that ENI signed an R&D collaboration to produce hydrogen from non-recyclable plastic packaging waste, here.  We looked at that algae proton pathway in work from Germany, here and we highlighted purple bacteria that turns sewage into hydrogen energy, here.

The Bottom Line

Hydrogen continues to march along. We covered the field in some detail in Tapping biogas for the renewable hydrogen that we really, really need here and Affordable, green hydrogen — it is here, near, or nowhere in sight (again)? here and Are electrics a bridging technology, and hydrogen fuel cells the future? here.

Hydrogen has its share of skeptics — no one questions that fuel cells work — in fact, they provided the Apollo Moon shot with power. It is a question of economics, and infrastructure to transport hydrogen to support fuels at scale. Toyota’s been working hard on both of these — more to come.

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