Low carbon hydrogen on the way in the UK

February 19, 2020 |

From the UK, news is arriving out of research circles about a project called HyPER project (Bulk Hydrogen Production by Sorbent Enhanced Steam Reforming), that will construct a state-of-the-art 1.5 MWth pilot plant at Cranfield University to test an innovative hydrogen production technology that substantially reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

The project  has received £7.5M ($10M) in funding from the UK’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s (BEIS) Energy Innovation Programme, and the project also involves US-based research and development organization GTI and Doosan Babcock, a specialist in delivery of low-carbon technologies. 

The technology

The project centers on a novel hydrogen production technology invented by GTI. The process inherently captures the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) during the hydrogen production process and shifts the chemical reactions to favor the production of more hydrogen. The outputs are high-purity streams of hydrogen and carbon dioxide which can be then stored, sold or transported to where it is needed. 

The process for the direct production of hydrogen from natural gas that will be used in the project is compact yet scalable to very large plants. It has the potential to produce high-purity hydrogen at an up to 30% lower cost than conventional steam methane reforming methods that require CO2 capture as an additional expensive process step. Conventional technology is also limited in the portion of CO2 emissions that can actually be avoided with reasonable economics. A key benefit of the new process is that it could be more economical and efficient than other technologies as the product streams are pressurized.

Next milestone

Following on from a successful first phase, the pilot plant will be constructed at Cranfield University in 2020 and become operational in 2021.

Reaction from the stakeholders

Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth, Kwasi Kwarteng, said, “Hydrogen offers the opportunity of a cleaner, greener fuel for heating our homes and getting us from A to B. The innovative project from Cranfield University, GTI and Doosan Babcock is a clear step in that direction – particularly in this year of climate action.”

Professor Phil Hart, Director of Energy and Power at Cranfield University, said, “Each year the world consumes 74 million tonnes of hydrogen and demand will increase as countries seek to decarbonize their economies. The kind of technology we are exploring could open up this market across the globe and make the production, storage and transportation of low-carbon hydrogen a widespread reality.”

“Energy companies have to meet the reliability, cost, and safety needs that their customers demand at the same time they are reducing the impact on the environment. Hydrogen is a great solution for that,” adds Mike Rutkowski, GTI Senior Vice President, Research and Technology Development.

Dr Peter Clough, Lecturer in Energy Engineering at Cranfield University, says, “The pilot plant will be a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate the scale-up of the technology and process, and to offer a unique teaching and research facility for students at Cranfield University.”

“Doosan Babcock is excited to be the engineering partner progressing the HyPER technology to pilot demonstration in the UK. We look forward to realizing the potential of the technology to meet the demand for low-carbon energy at lower cost,” comments Stuart Mitchell, Director of Technology Innovation at Doosan Babcock.

“The Phase one work showed that the technology has great market potential and makes economic sense. Moving the technology forward will minimize greenhouse gas emissions, and we anticipate great benefits for consumers, industry, and the hydrogen sector,” adds Mike Rutkowski. “GTI is developing the technologies for a safe, reliable, affordable pathway to a low-carbon energy future.”

The Bottom Line

This is an efficiency play and a cost play — the hydrogen is greenish-grey rather than stictly green, we are still using natural gas. From a green POV, the interest here is the potential to use landfill biogas and other reneable methane sources. Without question, there’s potential here for a cost advance in service aof a world always short on hydrogen. 

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