• 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?



  • Ken Chlapik, Johnson Matthey USA, ken.chlapik@matthey.com

    Reducing the carbon footprint of an existing steam methane reforming (SMR) hydrogen production plant comes at a cost. There are several areas that need to be considered including:
    • Carbon legislation/cost of carbon
    • Carbon intensity of the hydrogen production technology
    • Commercial readiness of hydrogen production and CO2 capture technology
    • CO2 storage availability

    While net zero targets are being set by countries and companies, the means to reach these targets is still forming. Some regions of the world are setting legislation and taxing carbon emissions which will establish a cost of carbon for the location site affecting the economics of the carbon footprint reduction. The source of carbon emissions both direct and indirect is also being addressed which impacts merchant hydrogen production as well as on site production.  With merchant hydrogen, the end user loses some control over being able to remove CO2 emissions which could leave the end user liable to greater tax or indirectly paying for merchant’s CO2 emissions tax through higher hydrogen prices. The end user also loses any potential benefits/credits that could be gained by sequestering on site emissions.

    Advanced reforming such as a gas heated reformer (GHR) and/or an autothermal reformer (ATR) remove the post combustion carbon emission of an SMR substantially reducing the carbon intensity of hydrogen production. They can be used to augment or replace the existing SMR. These advanced reforming technologies have been designed and operated at syngas production levels greater than existing world scale SMR hydrogen production plants, making them ready for this application. While the post-combustion carbon emissions are eliminated with advanced reforming there is still process side CO2 that needs to be captured. As discussed in the recent PTQ Q3 Q&A question What options are there for CO2 capture from a SMR based hydrogen unit?, this pre-combustion (process side) CO2 is more readily removed being at pressure and simpler in composition, with fewer contaminants and impurities using established CO2 capture technology. The CO2 captured needs a place to be stored as part of the carbon footprint reduction of the existing SMR hydrogen plant. The availability of CO2 storage to the refinery site would need to be reviewed and understood.

    The above quickly reviews an approach for reducing the carbon footprint, but each facility has to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis against the short, near, and long term decarbonisation strategies. Johnson Matthey’s customers are navigating this question for their petrochemical syngas production facilities. Our Low Carbon Solutions business is conducting these types of techno economic decarbonisation studies addressing these areas as well as other areas such as company internal near term, intermediate, and long term decarbonisation targets, future hydrogen demand, site availability, and replacement of SMR hydrogen production with grass roots blue and green hydrogen capacity.



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