European energy intensive industries are today under a significant pressure to get their processes decarbonised. It is demanded by politicians and by the public that Europe leads with an innovative but decarbonised:
"I want to make our industry stronger and more competitive. The new Industrial Policy Strategy we are presenting today will help our industries stay or become the world leader in innovation, digitisation and decarbonisation." said Jean-Claude Juncker on 13 September 2017, in his annual State of the Union address.
A new feedstock
It is however difficult to decarbonise a process that has taken decades to perfect, reaching optimum level of efficiencies. There are, however, new, innovative solutions that might just do the trick. A new wave of feedstock: green hydrogen. Indeed, industry utilises other energy carriers such as natural gas or coal as a feedstock in their processes. A complete fuel replacement from these carbon-intensive feedstocks to decarbonised/green hydrogen can be a reality.
The steel industry today is not a big consumer of hydrogen. This can, however, change quite drastically. There are different pathways being researched and demonstrated today through pilot projects. Some of the most radical ones are below:
Iron ore could initially be reduced to iron with the aid of natural gas and a higher volume of hydrogen in a direct reduction reactor. The reaction takes place at 950°, and sponge iron is produced. Based on this method, a reduction of iron of up to 85% can be achieved. The challenge inherent in direct reduction consists of integrating the new facilities into the existing steelworks. Through the gradual implementation of a reactor of this kind, CO2 savings of initially up to 50% are theoretically possible. If, in the future, switching the entire production to a direct reduction plant is possible, this figure can be raised to up to 85%.
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Under the coordination of the utility VERBUND, the steel manufacturer voestalpine and Siemens, a proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolyser manufacturer, a large-scale 6 MW PEM electrolysis system will be installed and operated at the voestalpine Linz steel plant in Austria. The Austrian transmission system operator (TSO) Austrian Power Grid (APG) will support the prequalification of the electrolyser system for the provision of ancillary services. The Energy research centre of the Netherlands (ECN) and K1-MET will study the replicability of the experimental results on larger scales in EU28 for the steel industry.
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HYBRIT is coordinating the work to develop a steel production process that uses hydrogen instead of coal and coke to allow a direct reduction in CO2 emissions, replacing them with water emissions. The blast furnace will be replaced with a direct reduction process and the hydrogen will come from renewable electricity power enabling fossil-free steel production.
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Additionally, carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) is a valuable way of capturing CO2 and re-utilising it as a feedstock for other markets. This captured CO2 can be put together with hydrogen and yield many different feedstocks (e.g.: methanol for the chemical industry, synthetic natural gas for heating and cooling, etc.). Notable CCU project in the steel industry are described below:
Arcelor Mittal’s Steelanol project - click here.
Thyssenkrupp’s Carbon2chem project - click here.
A decarbonised feedstock
Secondly, hydrogen is today already massively used in these, and other, industries.
The industry at large represents today more than 90% of hydrogen market share with a total consumption in Europe of 7 Mtons of hydrogen. Hydrogen is used as a raw material, or feedstock, for various processes. The main industries are as following:
Fig.: Hydrogen demand per industry segment
It is foreseen that up to the year 2025 there will be more or less constant global growth at the current rate of 3.5% per year.
The chemical sector has the largest market share and its main sub-segments are: 84% Ammonia (3.6 Mtons of H2), 12% Methanol, 2% Polyurethane, and 2% Nylon. Refineries are the second largest market (21.1 Mtons of H2). Here, hydrogen is used for hydrogenation process in order to produce lighter crudes. Source: Certifhy [http://www.certifhy.eu/images/D1_2_Overview_of_the_market_segmentation_Final_22_June_low-res.pdf]
As hydrogen therefore has an important role in European industries today as a feedstock, providing a decarbonised/green hydrogen would substantially reduce the overall greenhouse gas emissions of these industries.
Green hydrogen is produced via water electrolysis, using green power to split water into hydrogen (H2) and oxygen (O2) that comes from direct connection to green power plants or from the grid using contractual green power contracts and guarantees of origin. It can also technically be produced via biogas steam reforming (considered as carbon-neutral).
Source: Hydrogen sources and uses in refineries from LBST
While some of the hydrogen needed is extracted from the refining process itself (cracking of crude oil) and reinjected into it, the remaining (large) quantities are usually produced via Steam Methane Reforming of natural gas (SMR). Using green hydrogen in refining is an unused shortcut to reduce CO2 emissions in the transport sector. It would reduce the upstream emissions of CO2 by the factor of 10 (104,3 to 9,1 gCO2/MJ):
By utilising green hydrogen in refineries, substantial GHG emissions can be achieved, as natural gas use is reduced. Additionally, when produced via electrolysis, renewable power in excess like wind and solar can be used (which otherwise would be curtailed), and transformed into an energy component (hydrogen) needed for fuels’ production that can act as energy storage until it is fed in the refinery process. In total, this could amount to approx. 20 million tons CO2 emission reduction in the EU annually [source: International Energy Agency, Hydrogen Implementing Agreement Task 23 Final Report 2006-2011, S. 45]
More concretely, according to Hinicio and LBST, there is a 3 Mt of CO2eq/a mitigation potential in France and Germany (or 1% of transport emissions) at 335 €/tCO2 compared to 350 €/tCO2 for 1st gen biofuels. This equals a CO2 reduction of 650k BEV/FCEV cars at 7 bn€ less in investment than for BEV/FCEV cars. This would require around 3.5 GW of electrolysis capacity and 3 bn€ investments into electrolysis, which would boost the market significantly for all green H2 applications. Finally, this results in 20% “gate-to-gate” emission reduction for refineries.
On top of positive environmental impacts, the use of Green Hydrogen in refineries will generate major economies of scale for hydrogen technologies (such as water electrolysis): reducing dramatically the costs and paving the way for cheaper green hydrogen which will then accelerate technology adoption for other applications (spill over effect) and enable further decarbonisation of the heating, transport, and industrial sectors (see paper on Sectoral Integration).
The Chemical industry has recently looked at what requirements would be needed if they were to decarbonise their processes. In doing so, the European chemical industry contracted Dechema and a study has been published from which the following has been extracted:
“The chemical industry is based on transformation processes, where carbon and hydrogen are essential elements. Reactions with mixtures of hydrogen, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide are well known in the chemical industry as synthesis gas-based routes, and they can be used to build-up all major platform chemicals for the chemical industry’s value chain. In contrast to the usual gasification processes to convert fossil carbon feedstocks into synthesis gas, subject to the corresponding high CO2 emissions, alternative pathways can be designed using hydrogen from low-carbon electricity as a reactant. In effect, these routes offer an opportunity for the chemical industry to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, to reduce industrial CO2-emissions as well as to recycle and valorize emitted CO2. Hydrogen acts as a key high-energy containing reaction partner in the conversions of CO2 to the aforementioned target products, this energy being necessary to activate and convert the both kinetically inactive and thermodynamically stable carbon dioxide molecule. Realizing a low-carbon chemical industry therefore requires a shift in the production of hydrogen from the classic steam reforming of methane to new, CO2 lean, technologies.”