Sustainable Energy

Energy major announces plans to produce hydrogen from 'largest plant of its kind'

Key Points
  • There are clear environmental challenges when it comes to hydrogen production.
  • A number of interesting projects using fuel cell technology have taken shape in recent years. 
The Saltend Chemicals Park is a major facility located in the north of England.
Robert Brook | The Image Bank | Getty Images

Norwegian energy major Equinor has released details of a major U.K.-based project that will combine hydrogen generation with carbon capture and storage.

The Hydrogen to Humber Saltend, or H2H Saltend, project will be based at the Saltend Chemicals Park close to Hull, a city in the north of England. Equinor said the development would be "the largest plant of its kind in the world."

Hydrogen at the facility will be generated from natural gas, and sent to chemical plants and a power station. Carbon dioxide, a by-product of the process, will be funneled offshore and buried under the seabed.

It's hoped that the scheme will help to cut emissions at the Saltend Chemicals Park by almost 900,000 metric tons of CO2 annually.

An energy carrier, hydrogen has many applications, such as being used in fuel cells that power cars, trains and buses.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, hydrogen doesn't usually exist on its own in nature and is instead produced from compounds containing it. The department lists a number of sources — including fossil fuels, solar and geothermal — that can produce hydrogen.

It can be done by several methods, the DOE says, including thermochemical processes, such as natural gas reforming, and electrolytic processes.

The kind of hydrogen the Equinor project hopes to produce is known as blue hydrogen — or hydrogen that's produced using natural gas "with the associated CO2 captured and safely stored."

Green hydrogen, by contrast, is produced using renewable sources. Last October, Wood Mackenzie said its research showed that "less than 1% of all hydrogen produced today comes from renewable electricity."

There are clear environmental challenges when it comes to hydrogen production. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), while demand for hydrogen is growing, it's "almost entirely supplied from fossil fuels." In terms of its impact, the IEA states that hydrogen production is responsible for carbon dioxide emissions of roughly 830 million metric tons each year.

A final investment decision on the Equinor scheme could be taken in 2023, with production potentially commencing in 2026, the company said. It is one of several firms looking to develop projects focused on hydrogen. Last month, Spanish oil and gas producer Repsol announced plans to develop a facility that will use carbon dioxide and green hydrogen to generate net-zero emission fuels.

Recent years have seen a number of interesting projects using hydrogen fuel cell technology take shape.

The U.K. capital of London is home to a small number of hydrogen buses, for example, while transport manufacturer Alstom has been working on hydrogen trains.

Yesterday, JCB said it had developed a "hydrogen powered excavator" weighing 20 metric tons. "The only emission from the exhaust is water," according to the firm.