Hydrogen leverages the renewable economy

Air Liquide aims to gradually increase the production of renewable hydrogen
Large Industries
5 April 2021

If we want to reduce fossil fuel use and the associated CO2 emissions, we need a sustainable and affordable alternative that meets the necessary safety and quality requirements, can be used anywhere, and is easily distributed.

That is quite a list of demands, which helps to explain why the energy transition cannot be achieved overnight. What is certain, is that hydrogen will have a prominent role in tomorrow's carbon neutral society.

Tom Eikmans, Strategic Partnerships Director at Air Liquide, explains that there are different ways of making hydrogen, and that some are already more renewable than others: "Until now, hydrogen has usually been made through a chemical reaction between natural gas and steam. The CO2 contained in the natural gas is released in the process. When that CO2 then disperses into the air, we talk about fossil-based hydrogen."

Low-carbon hydrogen
"But it’s also possible to capture the CO2 in this process, and then store it sustainably and safely in the areas beneath the sea floor where natural gas used to be. There are a number of large-scale projects under development — Porthos, Antwerp@C and Northern Lights — that should make this possible in the next five years. In this instance we’re talking about low-carbon hydrogen. So fossil fuels are still used, but CO2 is no longer released into the atmosphere in the process."

For the actual capture of the CO2, Air Liquide has developed CryoCap™ technology. "We’ve equipped our first plant with CryoCap™ in Port-Jerôme-sur-Seine in France and the results are remarkable: every year the installation captures more than 100,000 tonnes of CO2," Eikmans explains.

"In our view, low-carbon hydrogen is an ideal interim solution in making the transition to renewable hydrogen possible in the long term. That is why we’re working on deploying and marketing CryoCapTM technology more widely, so that it can soon be used by other industrial players."

H-vision is a large-scale partnership between Deltalinqs, Air Liquide, BP, Gasunie, the Port of Rotterdam Authority, Power Plant Rotterdam, Shell, Exxon and Koninklijke Vopak, among others, aiming to significantly reduce CO2 emissions in the Rotterdam port area. To this end, H-vision is focusing on producing low-carbon hydrogen, to be used as a fuel for heating air to a high temperature for use in industrial processes.

What’s special about this, is that it largely uses residual gases from refining as its raw materials rather than natural gas. The CO2 is captured and then stored in empty gas fields or used as a building block in chemicals production.

This means that not only are there no CO2 emissions from hydrogen production, but also that the CO2 emissions from refinery gases — set to be millions of tonnes of CO2 per year — can be drastically reduced. An additional advantage of the project is that hydrogen production does not have to be constrained by the current limited availability of renewable electricity.

"Air Liquide is involved in the project because, on the one hand, we want to invest in the carbon neutral economy of tomorrow and, on the other, because our knowledge and technical expertise with regard to hydrogen can provide added value for H-vision. For example, Air Liquide is the world leader in autothermal reforming technology (ATR) that could be used to convert refinery gases into hydrogen. Of course, we can also make CryoCap™ technology available for CO2 capture."

It is expected that more clarity will emerge in the coming months about practical developments in the project.

Renewable hydrogen for low carbon mobility and industry
Air Liquide strives for a gradual transition to renewable hydrogen. "We already have plants in operation for that purpose in Denmark and in Canada, and we intend to considerably expand that number. This will allow us to maximise our response to the rising demand for renewable hydrogen."

"In any case, we’re trying to ensure that all the hydrogen we sell for transport applications — cars, and above all trucks, buses and ships — is renewable. In the Benelux this is already happening. Renewable hydrogen is also expected to play an increasingly important role in industry," concludes Eikmans.