New IEAGHG Technical Report: 2022-07 Low Carbon Hydrogen from Natural Gas: Global Roadmap

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By Abdul'Aziz Aliyu

3 August 2022

In light of the need to address pertinent knowledge gaps with regards to the key aspects of blue (CCS-abated) hydrogen deployment, IEAGHG commissioned two parallel blue hydrogen studies. These studies are ”Blue Hydrogen – Beyond the Plant Gate” which was designed to inform on the prospect of low carbon hydrogen from oil and oil-based feedstocks and ”Low carbon hydrogen from natural gas Hydrogen – Global Roadmap”. The latter appraises the life cycle emissions and the techno-economics of SMR (TRL 9) + CCS, ATR (TRL 7 – 9) + CCS, ESMR (TRL 4) + CCS and POX (TRL 9) against the benchmark conventional SMR (with no associated CCS) in the Netherlands.

The key messages from the low carbon hydrogen from natural gas are as follows:

  • The life cycle assessment (LCA) for the natural gas-based blue (CCS-abated) hydrogen production technologies reveals that a reduction of the carbon footprint ranging between 43-76% can be achieved in the Netherlands in 2020 for all the investigated technologies. This reduction is set against the reference grey (without CCS) hydrogen with a carbon footprint of 10.13 kg CO2 eq./kg H2.
  • The carbon footprints of blue hydrogen produced using SMR (2.78 kg CO2 eq./kg H2), ATR + GHR (3.23 kg CO2 eq./kg H2) are comparable to that of POX, with POX (2.43 kg CO2eq./kg H2) achieving the lowest carbon footprint. In contrast, blue hydrogen produced using ESMR has the highest carbon footprint (5.74 kg CO2 eq./kg H2). This is primarily because of the significant utilisation of the carbon intensity of electricity in the Netherlands (480 gCO2/kWh in 2020).
  • Direct CO2 emissions (reaction emissions and emissions related to combustion of natural gas), natural gas production and transport as well as grid electricity, were found to be important contributory factors in the carbon footprint of the blue hydrogen production pathways. The most influential factor on the carbon footprint of hydrogen produced via SMR + CCS was the natural gas production and transport. The largest contributing factor of the carbon footprint for ATR + gas heated reformer (GHR) + CCS, ESMR + CCS and POX, in this study, was the source of electricity utilised to run these thermochemical processes.
  • The carbon capture rate has a significant impact on the carbon footprint of the blue hydrogen production technology. The overall carbon footprint of hydrogen produced with the SMR technology is reduced by 8% when the carbon capture efficiency is increased from 90% to 99%, this is despite the increase of electricity usage increase by 10%.
  • An increase of the carbon footprint of natural gas by 171% and 29% were observed for natural gas imported to the Netherlands from Russia and Algeria respectively.
  • The projected reduction in carbon footprint for different technologies varied significantly from 12% for SMR + CCS to 54% for ESMR + CCS by 2030.
  • All the four investigated technologies were observed to be most sensitive to feedstock/fuel costs and the price of CO2 T&S. SMR was also found to be highly sensitive to increasing carbon prices because this technology exhibits the lowest CO2 capture efficiency amongst the studied technologies. In contrast, ATR, POX and ESMR are observed to be largely sensitive to electricity costs.
  • POX is the most cost-effective process for avoiding CO2 emissions, whereas ESMR is the highest cost in Netherlands in 2020. SMR and ATR both have a cost of CO2 abatement of about €110/tCO2, which is about 28% higher than POX and between 9% to 25% lower than ESMR (with grid and renewable electricity respectively).
  • By 2050, the investigated blue hydrogen production technologies have between 17% to 31% lower LCOH against the reference case. In this case scenario, significant reduction of the cost of CO2 T&S for all technologies is realised as CCS projects are de-risked. Significant learnings are gained from numerous deployment projects and economies of scale are achieved.

This study concluded that in the short term, all the natural gas based blue hydrogen production technologies analysed are likely to be costlier than the established grey hydrogen production in the Netherlands. However, as carbon pricing increases (to make grey hydrogen production being an unattractive economic option), CCS integration will be crucial for reducing the cost of natural gas-based hydrogen production. Therefore, development of policy instruments is imperative to establish demand via incentivizing decarbonization through low carbon hydrogen pathways; ensuring access via making hydrogen accessible through the developing infrastructure; and lower cost via creating economies of scale to reduce cost and open new markets.

The findings of this study will be of interest to the industry, academia, policy makers and technology developers.

To request a copy of the report, please email tom.billcliff@ieaghg.org with the report reference number (2022-07).

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