3.1.1 Early investigations with substituting grey hydrogen in refining and chemicals sectors

In 2018, the European refining industry consumed approximately 124 TWhLHV of grey hydrogen, with Germany (21%) and the Netherlands (14%) the top consumers. Early project developments are ongoing to substitute grey hydrogen with blue or green hydrogen in the refining sector. Shifting from grey to blue or green hydrogen can be done without major refining process adaptations.

All large EU refineries mostly use natural gas and other fossil fuels to produce grey hydrogen through different reforming processes (see section 2.2.1).98 In the refining industry, increasing targets for desulphurisation increase demand for hydrogen (about 124 TWhLHV in 2018). In Europe, seven countries consumed about three-quarters of the total hydrogen for refining in 2018 (Figure 3.8): Germany (21%), the Netherlands (14%), Spain (11%), Italy (9%), Poland (8%), and France and Belgium (about 5% each).

This existing grey hydrogen feedstock can be replaced by green or blue hydrogen to decarbonise refining processes without major adaptations.46 Early investigations and developments are ongoing regarding feedstock substitution. Out of the 228 identified hydrogen production plants by the FCHO98 that were using fossil fuels as feedstock, only two were identified as using carbon capture technologies (see section 2.2.4). Both projects are in the refining sector: the Air Liquide Cryocap installation in Port-Jérôme, France, and the Shell refinery in Rotterdam.98

In 2018, approximately 94 TWhLHV of grey hydrogen was consumed for European ammonia production in Europe; Germany (20%), Poland (14%), and the Netherlands (13%) were the top consumers. Substituting grey hydrogen is in the early stages.

In the chemical industry, hydrogen is mainly used for ammonia production as feedstock for, among others, fertilisers and nitric oxide. In 2018, about 94 TWhLHV of hydrogen was consumed for ammonia production.98 Ammonia production is based on grey hydrogen produced through a steam methane reforming process (see section 2.2.1). This existing feedstock can be substituted with green or blue hydrogen without major adaptations.46 Seven countries in Europe consumed about 70% of the total hydrogen consumption for ammonia production in 2018 (Figure 3.9): Germany (20%), Poland (14%), the Netherlands (13%), France (7%), the UK (5%), Lithuania (5%), and Belgium (4%). Substitution of grey hydrogen is in early stages in this sector.

In 2018, about 33 TWhLHV of grey hydrogen was consumed for European methanol production; early commercial adoption of substituting grey hydrogen is ongoing.

Hydrogen demand in the remainder of the European chemical industry, including methanol production, was about 33 TWhLHV in 2018; Germany and the Netherlands combined consumed about half of this. In Europe, most methanol is produced through the compression of syngas and reaction over a catalyst. This syngas for methanol production is predominantly obtained from steam methane reforming, whereas autothermal reforming or coal gasification are also used in other regions.

Early developments to substitute grey hydrogen with blue and green hydrogen are ongoing in this sector. One established commercial CO2 methanol plant is the George Olah plant in Iceland, which uses green hydrogen for methanol production.117 Liquid Wind, based in Sweden, aims to capture CO2 from a waste-to-energy plant and combine it with green hydrogen to produce e-methanol; this product will be used to substitute feedstock in existing industries and tap into novel end-use applications like fuel.118

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