One of planet’s largest electrolyzers up and running

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A 20-megawatt hydrogen electrolyzer described as “one of the world’s largest” has gone into operation, Energy Major Shell said Friday.

Located in Zhangjiakou, Hebei Province, China, the electrolyzer will produce green hydrogen for fuel cell vehicles that will be used in Zhangjiakou’s competition zone during the Winter Olympics, which are set to open on February 4. When the games are over, commercial and public transportation will use the hydrogen.

In a statement, Wael Sawan, Shell’s director of integrated gas, renewable energy and energy solutions, said the electrolyzer was “the largest in our portfolio to date.”

“We see opportunities across the hydrogen supply chain in China, including production, storage and shipping,” Sawan said.

The plant in China is linked to a joint venture established in 2020 between Shell China and Zhangjiakou City Transport Construction Investment Holding Group Co. Ltd.

Hydrogen, which has a wide range of uses and can be used in a wide variety of industries, can be manufactured in a variety of ways. One method involves the use of electrolysis, in which an electric current splits water into oxygen and hydrogen.

If the electricity used in this process comes from a renewable source such as wind or sun, then some call it green or renewable hydrogen. The electrolyzer in Zhangjiakou will use wind power on land, Shell said.

While in some circles there is enthusiasm for the potential of green hydrogen, the vast majority of hydrogen production is currently based on fossil fuels.

In recent times, some business leaders have been talking about the problems they felt were facing the new green hydrogen sector. In October 2021, for example, the CEO of Siemens Energy told CNBC that there was “no commercial case” for it at this time.

Today, a variety of colors – including brown, blue, gray and pink, to name a few – are used to distinguish between different production methods for hydrogen.

Last December, the CEO of the German energy company RWE explained to CNBC how important it was to be pragmatic about color codes.

“Ultimately, all hydrogen has to be green, because green hydrogen is the only fuel that is … fully decarbonized,” Markus Krebber said. Meanwhile, industries had to make decisions to invest in new facilities and make them “H2-ready”.

“Of course, there is not enough green hydrogen available in the short term, so you need to allow them to run it first on natural gas and then maybe on all other colors. [of] hydrogen… especially blue, “he said.” But the moment green hydrogen is available, they should switch to green hydrogen to the extent necessary. “

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Blue hydrogen refers to hydrogen produced using natural gas – a fossil fuel – with the CO2 emissions generated during the process captured and stored.

Earlier this month, it was reported that one of the only plants in the world that uses carbon capture and storage technology (CCS) to reduce emissions from hydrogen production had been shown to emit far more greenhouse gas emissions than it captures.

The Shell factory in Alberta, Canada, owned by Shell and designed to capture carbon emissions from oil sands operations and safely store them underground, has previously been hailed as a “thriving example” of how CCS is working to significantly reduce carbon emissions.

However, a study by the watchdog group Global Witness, published last week, showed that while 5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide had been prevented from escaping into the atmosphere of the plant since 2015, it has also released 7.5 million tonnes of greenhouse gases in the same period. period.

This means that only 48% of the plant’s carbon emissions were captured, according to the report. In response to the report, a spokesman for Shell told CNBC via email that Global Witness’ analysis was “simply wrong” and stressed that the Quest plant was designed to capture about a third of carbon dioxide emissions.

Shells Quest CCS plant opened at the end of 2015 and is part of the group’s Scotford complex, where hydrogen is produced for use in refining oil sands bitumen (a type of oil deposit). The Quest plant does not cover the emissions for the entire plant.

“Our Quest plant was designed a few years ago as a demonstration project to prove the underlying CCS concept while capturing about a third of CO2 emissions. It is not a hydrogen production plant,” the Shell spokesman said.

—CNBC’s Sam Meredith contributed to this report

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