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Hydrogen Production via Grey, Blue, and Green Routes

Hydrogen production, purification, and recovery is critical to the refining industry as hydrogen demand is increasing because of decreasing crude quality, more stringent fuel standards around the world, and the rise of biofuels production. About a third of refinery H2 demand is met via byproduct supply from catalytic reforming units. The remainder comes from onsite dedicated H2 production via steam reforming or alternative technologies, recovery from offgas and purge streams, and the purchase of hydrogen from an over-the-fence production facility (merchant supplier).

Refinery-scale hydrogen production technology is currently dominated by the steam reforming of natural gas and other light hydrocarbons. Typically, a steam reformer produces grey hydrogen as part of a complete H2 plant that also includes the necessary pretreatment, shift conversion, and purification units. Hydrogen purification downstream of the steam methane reformer (SMR) is typically achieved using pressure swing adsorption (PSA) or membrane technology.

The recovery of grey H2 from offgas and purge gas streams can be achieved in a number of different configurations. The core technologies are very similar to purification technologies that are in place at the back end of conventional reforming facilities. Depending on the refinery configuration, refiners can choose to recover offgas in the PSA associated with the SMR, install a dedicated PSA for refinery offgas, or utilize the offgas as feed to the SMR plant.

How it will benefit you

As meeting the increase in hydrogen demand has largely fell on SMR, the study is designed to address on two sought-after objectives: (1) optimizing production from the H2 plant and (2) improving the reliability of the SMR. Increasing energy efficiency in order to improve profits and/or reduce CO2 emissions is another currently critical area of focus. Offerings to meet these objectives include reformer tube innovation, prereformers and post-reformers, catalyst loading methods, tube temperature monitoring technologies, and reformers designed to utilize heat generated in the process for the reforming reactions.

SMRs contribute to a significant portion of a refinery's overall carbon footprint, due mainly to the fact that most of the carbon fed into the unit ends up as CO2. As such, hydrogen producers have moved from the approach used in previous decades whereby CO2 was simply separated from the hydrogen and generally sent into the atmosphere. An alternative option that lowers greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is blue hydrogen production pathways that couple SMRs with carbon capture and storage (CCS) or carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS). Also, electrolysis of water using renewable energy sources produces green hydrogen, which can be stored or transported to customers.

Currently blue and green hydrogen account for a small percentage of total H2 production. But, with the global push to decarbonize across many industries, this may change. Blue hydrogen retrofitting and greenfield and brownfield solutions may be the optimal choice in the near-term as these are based on established H2 production processes and are less expensive. However, in the future, if green hydrogen becomes cost-competitive, more refiners may turn to the electrolyzers that are available on the market from several companies.

What does it include

The current study, completed in 1Q 2021, begins with updated global hydrogen demand, production capacity and market supply, the impact of increasing biofuels production and the push towards decarbonization, blue hydrogen as a transition from grey hydrogen, and the benefits of and barriers to green hydrogen.

In addition a comprehensive list of state-of-the-art technologies, recent innovations feature the new offerings by Honeywell UOP (PSAGuard software solution for monitoring and analyzing PSA units) and TechnipFMC (recuperative reforming technology called Enhanced Annular Reforming Tube for Hydrogen [EARTH]). The study also discusses the latest commercial catalyst developments by Haldor Topsoe (TITAN line of SMR catalysts and high-temperature shift catalyst SK-501 Flex); Magma Catalysts (MagCat steam reforming catalyst); and Unicat (product portfolio for hydrogen plants).

Blue hydrogen innovations are represented by: Air Liquid Engineering & Construction (Cryocap CO2 cold capture system and aMDEA amine absorption and Rectisol technologies); Aker Carbon Capture (proprietary carbon capture process); Johnson Matthey (Low Carbon Hydrogen [LCH] process); Linde (Post Combustion Capture [PCC] and RECTISOL technologies); and Shell Catalysts & Technologies (ADIP ULTRA, the CANSOLV CO2 Capture System, and the Shell Blue Hydrogen Process [SBHP]).

This study has a very extensive coverage of green hydrogen technologies by: Cummins (HyLYZER Polymer Electrolyte Membrane [PEM] Electrolyzer and HySTAT Alkaline Electrolyzer); Haldor Topsoe (SOEC electrolyzers); Hoeller Electrolyzer (Prometheus PEM technology); ITM Power (HGasXMW PEM electrolyzer for the large-scale production of hydrogen); McPhy (McLyzer alkaline electrolyzers); Nel Hydrogen (alkaline and PEM electrolyzers); Siemens Energy (Silyzer line of PEM electrolyzers); Sunfire (HyLink Alkaline and HyLink SOEC electrolyzers); and ThyssenKrupp (alkaline electrolyzers).

The study also includes extensive discussions of plant operations and practices that identify valuable operating experiences and daily trouble-shooting techniques in hydrogen production, recovery, and purification shared by veteran refining professionals around the world.

To plot future hydrogen plant directions, the study gathers and reviews the latest patent applications and research papers regarding steam reformer processes, reformer designs, and catalysts; H2 plants and equipment; dry reforming processes, apparatus, and catalysts; other reforming technologies; water gas shift and methanation; and H2 recovery and purification.

Finally, global installed capacity and recent construction activities are summarized in the study to track the growth of hydrogen production around the world.

Publication details

Publication frequency

Single publication

Publication format

Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) file


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