Tangled Up in Blue - Air Products' Plan to Make Hydrogen So Blue It's Almost Green

None of us knows with any certainty how big a role hydrogen will ultimately play in helping the U.S. and the rest of the world decarbonize. Sure, some true believers are convinced H2 is the next big thing, but even they must acknowledge the economic and other challenges associated with scaling up the production of “green” or “blue” hydrogen. Do we really want to devote the energy from thousands of wind turbines or many square miles of solar panels to produce relatively small volumes of green H2 from water via electrolysis? And is blue hydrogen — produced by breaking natural gas into hydrogen and carbon dioxide, then capturing and sequestering the CO2 — really a solution considering efficiency losses and the fact that only about 50% of the CO2 from steam methane reforming (SMR) units is actually snared? Which brings us to Air Products & Chemicals’ newly announced final investment decision (FID) on a $4.5 billion complex in Louisiana that will use a proprietary process — and not SMR — to produce what you might call deep-blue hydrogen and capture and sequester 95% of the resulting CO2. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the project and its implications.

Hydrogen has attracted a lot of attention lately, including in the RBN blogosphere, where we’ve helped our typically hydrocarbon-focused readers make sense of the H2 buzz (Help! Part 1), explained how hydrogen is produced (Help! Part 2), looked at H2 production economics (Help! Part 3), and sorted out the many “colors” that hydrogen can come in. These include old-fashioned — and very common — gray hydrogen, produced with natural gas via SMR without carbon capture and sequestration (CCS; see Been Around a Long Time); blue hydrogen (see above and Bullet the Blue Sky); turquoise hydrogen, produced with gas using plasma-arc technology to make H2 and solid carbon black (see Back in Black); and green hydrogen (again, see above).

Despite all the attention and talk, what we haven’t seen much of in the green or blue hydrogen space are big, multibillion-dollar plans for U.S. projects backed up with FIDs. Then came the Air Products’ announcement on October 14 that, after four years of planning, engineering, and other work, the company has committed to building a hydrogen-focused complex in Ascension Parish, LA (blue star in Figure 1) — just upriver from New Orleans — that by 2026 will start producing more than 750 MMcf/d (or about 1,850 tons a day) of blue H2. Best of all, from an environmental perspective, Air Products says that its proprietary version of  “auto-thermal reforming” (ATR) will enable the project to capture about 95% of the CO2 generated during hydrogen production. That 5 million tons/year of captured CO2 will be injected into a nearby Class 6 sequestration well that the company and the state of Louisiana — a big booster of the project — expect to secure permits for within the next two years or so.

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