By Nick Flinn and Nan Liu on Sep 27, 2020
As societies continue to decarbonise energy streams, hydrogen could play an increasing role in heating, mobility, power and industrial production. The European Commission has announced strategies for powering a climate-neutral economy by focusing on energy system integration and hydrogen, as part of the E.U.’s coronavirus economic recovery plan and the European Green Deal. Transforming the energy system – which accounts for 75% of the E.U.’s greenhouse gas emissions – is essential to the E.U.’s goal of becoming climate neutral by 2050.1
Shell Catalysts & Technologies is currently working with customers – in particular, those based in Norway, the Netherlands, the U.K. and Germany – who are looking into early adoption of decarbonisation technologies and to generate a portfolio of technologies that covers blue hydrogen.
On September 30, 2020, Nan Liu, Licensing Technology Manager Gasification, will be a speaker on a live webcast, moderated by Hydrocarbon Processing, on ‘Affordable blue hydrogen production with Shell Blue Hydrogen Process’.
To learn about the Shell Blue Hydrogen Process, we spoke with Nan Liu and Nick Flinn, the Global Vice President for Technology Licensing and Services, about hydrogen market trends and the qualities that make the Shell Blue Hydrogen Process distinctive.
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What market trends are you seeing regarding grey, blue and green hydrogen?
Nick Flinn: Shell plans on contributing to the development of hydrogen networks – the production of hydrogen and the networks to distribute hydrogen to various users.
Shell is already developing both green and blue hydrogen production. Whilst green hydrogen is the ideal aspiration for a low-carbon energy future, that technology has a number of years to go before it is of a competitive price range. In the interim, blue hydrogen can help create the demand and transport networks for hydrogen whilst green hydrogen costs fall.
Today, more than 99% of hydrogen globally is grey hydrogen.2 Grey hydrogen is often produced in a similar way to blue hydrogen except that the CO2 is emitted into the atmosphere. To help contribute to the energy transition, hydrogen producers need to produce more blue and green hydrogen as the market grows.
Shell is currently developing a number of green hydrogen electrolysers across Europe, including at our refinery in Rhineland. Alongside this we are also exploring ways to advance the use of blue hydrogen, and have developed our own process for this – the Shell Blue Hydrogen Process. The technologies and building blocks to create blue hydrogen are already tested and proven, and they have been used in various industries for many decades.
Nan Liu: There are also the resource holders, which include the countries that are producing natural gas and exporting it as a form of liquified natural gas (LNG). Because consumers are looking for clean molecules to use in their industry, those resource holders are also looking for ways to produce the blue hydrogen molecule. Looking at the market drivers globally, the countries that are exporting LNG today are potentially looking to produce and transport blue hydrogen to the consumers as well.
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What are the advantages of the Shell Blue Hydrogen Process? How is it distinctive from other blue hydrogen technologies?
Nan Liu: When we compare typical hydrogen manufacturing technologies, the Shell Blue Hydrogen Process has two key differences:
Simplicity and reduced capex
Shell blue hydrogen technology is based on its use of Shell Gas POx (SGP) technology, which is non-catalytic. The majority of the alternatives are based on steam reforming technology that is catalytic based. The advantage this gives us is basically simplicity of the overall process. Without catalyst, there is no need to pre-treat the natural gas that is going into the process, which reduces complexity as well as capex.
Efficiency and reduced opex
The other key difference is that the overall energy balance of Shell blue hydrogen technology is designed to maximise efficiency, which gives opex savings. The SGP process doesn’t require steam; rather, it produces steam which is used in the process, hence reduced overall power import. There are other advantages, including how the SGP process operates at a much higher pressure, which also reduces the overall capex and product compression.
All these elements give the Shell Blue Hydrogen Process an opex reduction of up to 35% and a capex savings of up to 20%, compared to competitors. When we look at both the capex and opex benefits in the blue hydrogen space, the key economic indicator is the levelised cost of hydrogen. Our technology presents up to 25% lower levelised cost of hydrogen compared to others.
Nan, in the webinar you will discuss how the Shell Blue Hydrogen Process is composed of three key component blocks. What is novel about bringing these proven technologies together?
Nan Liu: The key differentiator of the Shell Blue Hydrogen Process is the integration. We integrate both Shell in-house and third-party technologies and use Shell’s experiences in its own projects to maximise the integration of each block. Shell is an owner-and-operator for both an SGP-based hydrogen plant and a CO2 capture and sequestration plant, and we can demonstrate how to optimise the interfaces between each block, which makes the overall line-up more advantageous compared to alternative hydrogen manufacturing technology.
The Shell Blue Hydrogen Process is commercially proven at a large scale. Its technologies have been developed for over 60 years. Because we operate our own plants, over the years, we have improved our technology in terms of the capacity and efficiency of the process, including continuous improvements of critical equipment that make the overall process more robust. Many investors are looking for large-scale hydrogen plants that are able to demonstrate stability and cost-efficiency at a commercial scale.
Nick Flinn: We also feel that now is the right time to bring this technology to the market. In the past there has been eitement around the potential of hydrogen, but it was premature from the perspective of maturity and scalability of the technology, as well as legislative action supporting the energy transition.
We feel that now the technology’s development, as well as increasing support from public and private sectors, are at a place where the hydrogen market can be firmly established. We're looking to create partnerships with hydrogen producers as well as hard-to-abate sectors in order to help them reduce emissions.