Hydrogen: Enabling the transition to green chemistry
Hydrogen: Enabling the transition to green chemistry
There is enough energy in the world. The sun and wind contain more than enough to meet the needs of modern society.
Features - September 2018
We can access this green energy with wind turbines at sea and solar panels on our roofs. But how do you store it, to make sure there's always enough available? One solution could lie in the most common element in the universe: hydrogen.
First a simple chemistry lesson about hydrogen. At standard temperature and pressure it exists as a colorless, odorless, and highly flammable gas: H2. Water is made of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom: H2O. These two elements can be separated with electricity by electrolysis to produce H2, but the process is so energy intensive that until now hydrogen has mostly been extracted from natural gas. That also requires a lot of energy and generates the greenhouse gas CO2 as a byproduct.
"Hydrogen from renewable energy is a truly green form of energy. Burning it produces only water vapour, not CO2, and it can also be stored."
“There is a more sustainable way to make hydrogen,” notes Marcel Galjee, Director of Energy. “If you have (excess) electricity from wind or the sun, this too can be used to make hydrogen via electrolysis. Hydrogen produced using renewable energy is a truly green form of energy, because burning it produces only water vapor, not CO2, and it can also be stored.”
Hydrogen can serve as a sustainable fuel for cars and buses, but this is still only done on very small scale. Real growth requires a network of hydrogen stations and a large number of vehicles that can run on hydrogen. It is a real chicken-and-egg problem which Nouryon is trying to solve in cooperation with partners.
For example, since late 2017 we supply hydrogen, which is a byproduct of our chlorine production, for hydrogen-powered buses operating at Frankfurt-Höchst Industrial Park in Germany, and since early 2018 for a hydrogen refuelling station at our Chemiepark Delfzijl in the Netherlands. These are concrete steps towards zero-emission public transportation with a clean and sustainable fuel.
Galjee explains, “Until now hydrogen produced during chlorine production has mostly been used as a fuel in the production process. However, in larger quantities it is also highly suitable for use as a raw material for all kinds of chemical processes. With hydrogen from renewable sources – green hydrogen – that step is even more attractive. The scale in particular is what makes it worthwhile. Hydrogen as a large-scale, green raw material for mobility and industry can make a real difference.”
“The production of green hydrogen offers huge opportunities for us. We have years of experience with electrochemical production of hydrogen,” states Galjee. However, long-term cooperation with new partners is necessary for the development of new value chains.
For example, with Dutch energy company NUON and others, we are working on incorporating hydrogen into the production of ammonia, a potential fuel for power plants if there is a shortage of electricity. We have also teamed up with Dutch gas transporter Gasunie to investigate making methanol, one of the most widely used raw materials in the chemical industry, using hydrogen and oxygen from electrolysis, plus CO, CO2, and biomass.
Galjee observes, “That's the beauty of hydrogen: you can use it as a raw material when you have enough, but also count on it if there is no wind or sun and the power grid demands extra production.”
To make this beautiful possiblity the norm, together with Gasunie we are investigating a facility for the large scale production of green hydrogen directly from water. From the early 2020s we could potentially produce around 3000 tons of hydrogen every year - enough to fuel 300 hydrogen buses or for a bus to drive around the world more than 1100 times.
Together with Tata Steel and the Port of Amsterdam, we are looking to take this a step further. Green hydrogen could help Tata significantly reduce their carbon footprint from steel production. At the same time, an abundant source of carbon, large quantities of wind energy, and large-scale green hydrogen production are optimal ingredients for green chemistry. We have therefore started a feasibility study for a 100 megawatt water electrolyzer. The project would be an important stepping stone in the transition to a carbon-neutral industry.
Interest in using hydrogen for energy and applications in the process industry has also grown in Sweden in the last few years. For example, we have partnered with state-owned research institute RISE, forestry group Södra, and packaging materials company BillerudKorsnäs to explore opportunities for green hydrogen and “electrofuels.”
Given the many opportunities we have already found, hydrogen will likely play an ever more prominent role in enabling the transition to green chemistry.
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