We want to reduce the refinery’s carbon footprint, starting with SMR. What’s the best economic approach: CCUS, an alternative process, or buy in the hydrogen?

First published in PTQ Q4 2021

Romain Roux, Advisor to CTO New Market Development, Axens

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Starting with SMR in the refinery, you will have three steps for decarbonisation:

  1. Carbon capture on the SMR synthetic gas itself: Amines can provide a reduction in the SMR unit’s CO2 emissions by more than 50%. Axens is proposing its AdvAmine™ technology. With more than 200 references, AdvAmine™ has recently been applied to green hydrogen production on syngas as well, but from Biogenic feedstock.
  2. Retrofitting the existing SMR in order to reduce CO2 emissions: A simple revamping of the furnaces will typically provide a reduction of more than 10% of the SMR unit’s carbon intensity.
  3. Carbon capture on the flue gas: Axens is currently developing a dedicated solvent based carbon capture technology – DMX™ – aimed at capturing CO2 at low pressures in industrial flue gases with low CO2 content. DMX™ will be fully demonstrated in 2022 on a steel manufacturing site. Axens is already proposing studies in order to evaluate the impact of DMX™ installations on decarbonisation projects.

The alternative would be to buy hydrogen (green or blue) to reduce CO2 emissions, or to develop an in-house green hydrogen project.

Blue hydrogen in general is sensitive to the effect of scale. Therefore, blue hydrogen will be economical only if the SMR unit is large, not too far from the site of consumption and when CO2 exports or valorisation are economical.

For green hydrogen, or more specifically hydrogen from electrolysis, many refineries are developing moderate-scale (tens of MW) electrolyser projects at their sites, but many projects are also based on production by a third party selling hydrogen. As this is a new market, the preferred business model as to whether to produce or buy green hydrogen has not yet been defined.