Why do we need renewable hydrogen? Why not use the electricity directly?
Hydrogen is essential for the UK to reach its net-zero greenhouse gas emissions target by 2050. This is recognised by government on the advice of its independent advisor, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC).
“the time is right to tap into hydrogen’s potential to play a key role in clean, secure and affordable energy future”
Renewable hydrogen offers an alternative use for renewable electricity compared to exporting directly to the electricity grid. This is an advantage, as the grid becomes increasingly saturated with renewable electricity particularly wind power, prices for electricity fall when the wind speeds across the UK increase. Furthermore, there are parts of the country where the electrical grid is so saturated that there is no physical capacity for additional connection of renewable projects. Hydrogen solves these problems for wind developers by offering an alternative and flexible market for their wind energy. The renewable hydrogen which is produced can be stored over long periods and then used to decarbonise “hard to treat” sectors such as industry and transport modes such as heavy-goods vehicles, trains, buses, manual handling equipment and maritime applications, for which decarbonisation using electricity alone is challenging. In this way, hydrogen enables a “sector-coupling” between the renewable energy sector and the large industrial, heat and transport markets. This coupling then enables an expansion in the amount of renewable energy generation which could be deployed if the generators had to rely exclusively on the electrical grid.
Most forecasters now agree that this sector coupling will be essential to achieve the ambition of a net-zero carbon energy system by 2050.
What next after Gigastack Phase 2
The study will highlight the technical and financial aspects of developing a project to supply bulk quantities of hydrogen to the Phillips 66 Humber Refinery. Subject to the outcomes of Gigastack Phase 2, the project will move to the electrolyser build phase. This will require the appropriate funding and, regulatory mechanisms to be in place.
What is a PEM electrolyser?
An electrolyser is a device which splits liquid water (H2O) into Hydrogen (H2) and Oxygen (O2) gases using electricity. If the electricity used to power the stack is renewable, the hydrogen and oxygen produced are also said to be green and renewable themselves. ITM Power manufactures PEM electrolysers. PEM stands for polymer electrolyte membrane. This technology uses a solid polymer membrane to transport the protons from the anode to the cathode. PEM electrolysers have the advantage of a low footprint and the ability to respond very rapidly to changes in the availability of power and / or demand for hydrogen.
How will the hydrogen be used by Phillips 66?
The renewable hydrogen will be used initially for substituting fossil fuel derived hydrogen already being used at the Phillips 66 Humber Refinery. This will reduce the refinery’s natural gas consumption and thus reduce the refinery’s overall CO2 emissions.
Is this project replicable in other locations?
Yes! The work will provide a blueprint for deploying large-scale electrolyser technology at sites across the UK, particularly those where connection to large renewable assets is viable. This will facilitate the decarbonisation of other industrial clusters and areas, enabling the UK to achieve its legally binding net-zero 2050 greenhouse gas emissions target more easily.
Will the hydrogen serve other end users?
Electrolyser technology is inherently scalable. As demand increases, more electrolyser modules can be installed to increase the system capacity. This renewable hydrogen could then supply more of the Phillips 66 Humber Refinery’s hydrogen demand, other industrial users in the Humber, transport and even injection into the national gas grid to help decarbonize the UK’s heat use.
What are the carbon reductions from this project?
The project partners will establish the carbon reductions as part of this project. The work on the Phillips 66 Humber Refinery is an important first step in decarbonising the UK’s largest industrial cluster by carbon emissions. This project will demonstrate how this is achievable with renewable hydrogen, acting as a blueprint for similar projects and subsequent deployments UK-wide.
However, assuming that renewable hydrogen from a 100MW electrolyser directly replaced natural gas in combustion would offset nearly 110 kilotonnes of CO2 per year.