World’s largest dynamic hydrogen electrolysis plant inaugurated

Article by Neil Clark

THE WORLD’S largest dynamic hydrogen electrolysis plant has been inaugurated in Germany, and has the capacity to produce hundreds of tons of hydrogen every year.

Situated at Hamburg-Neuhof, the €10m (US$11.9m) plant has been developed by H&R Ölwerke Schindler, a subsidiary of Germany’s H&R Group. It is centred around a Siemens-built 5 MW electrolyser, which uses proton membrane exchange (PEM) technology to generate hydrogen from electricity and water.

The PEM electrolyser uses an intelligent membrane that is permeable to protons, but not to gases like hydrogen and oxygen. Electrodes are attached either side of the membrane, and a voltage then applied to decompose water into oxygen, hydrogen ions, and free electrons. Only hydrogen ions pass through the membrane, where they encounter free electrons and form a clean stream of hydrogen.

H&R plans to use the hydrogen to add value in its refinery process. It currently uses hydrogen purchased from industrial suppliers to extract high-value speciality products, such as paraffins, white oils and process oils that are then further refined into cheese rinds, lipsticks, printing inks or car tyres.

“By opening the new plant, we produce our own hydrogen. This will not only save money, but will make logistics much easier and reduce the Hamburg refinery’s carbon output by 2,500 t/year,” said a spokesperson for H&R.

As a “dynamic” electrolysis plant, H&R hopes to use the new facility to take advantage of last-minute surges in electricity production to produce hydrogen – such as from wind energy. Currently, 2% of Germany’s electric power is lost due to production exceeding demand; in northern Germany around 15% is lost.

H&R describes the new plant as the first step in a long-term “Green Refinery” plan. “Fossil raw materials are far too valuable to be burned,” a spokesperson said. “To be ahead of the competition, you have to be more efficient. More core products, less simple lubricants, and as few by-products as possible that might end up in ship’s diesel or bunker fuel.”

They added that while common lubricants plants have an output of around 90% lubricants and 10% speciality products, H&R gets a yield of about 60% specialities, with 20–25% of the remaining lubricants additionally used for speciality formulations.

“H&R has managed – by continuously working to further develop its refinery processes, such as distillation, refining and deparaffinisation – to reduce the percentage of residual materials left over from production to just under 25%,” the spokesperson said, adding: “Our target until 2020 is to get an output of 90% from our raw materials into high-value applications.”

Article by Neil Clark

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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