Hydrogen produced from waste could soon be flowing from Egypt to Germany, with US-based H2-Industries signing deals this week that could see its ‘carbon-negative’ supplying the market with the lowest cost of hydrogen yet.
This week, the company announced plans to produce 300,000 tons of hydrogen per year in Egypt, out of 4 million tons of organic waste and non-recyclable plastic.
The announcement comes just days after talks at the MEFED energy conference in Jordan, where Germany climate minister Robert Habeck agreed to collaborate with H2-Industries to find German off-takers for the hydrogen produced in the MENA region, as part of the country’s new strategy to ramp up hydrogen imports to replace Russian gas.
The company has also recently signed MoUs for the design, delivery, installation, and operation of hydrogen production plants in Egypt and Oman. In late April, it unveiled plans to develop a $1.4 billion waste-to-hydrogen plant in conjunction with 300 MW of solar power plants and baseload capacity in Oman. It claims that it is in discussion for subsequent projects in “30 countries from South America, Europe, the Middle East to all areas in Africa.” In total, the company’s projects in the MENA region will aim to produce up to two million tons of clean hydrogen per year from 2030.
Further agreements are also being negotiated to see the hydrogen produced stored using the company’s liquid organic hydrogen carrier (LOHC) technology, which will then be transported to Germany for industrial off-takers.
H2 Industries hydrogen production uses a process called thermolysis, which unlike combustion, uses a high-temperature conversion process to produce hydrogen without oxygen. In thermolysis units – which take a similar form to pre-assembled and scalable shipping container frames – waste is decomposed through steam-reforming at a temperature of around 900 degrees Celsius. The product from this reaction is a hydrogen-rich gas mixture, from which hydrogen can be extracted and purified, as well as some additional waste, which can be discarded, or sometimes used in fertilizers.
The system can use a range of waste materials as its feedstock, including non-recyclable plastic waste such as hydrocarbons like polyethylene, biogenic residues from agriculture, forestry, food waste, and sewage sludge.
Through preventing any emissions from this process, such production of hydrogen can essentially be labelled as ‘carbon negative.’ On a global scale, the vast majority of municipal waste goes into open dumps (33%) and landfills without gas collection (28.9%). With a high biomass content in this situation, waste can be a major source of methane – with an 84-times greater impact on the climate than CO2, over a 20-year period. By processing waste for green hydrogen, the methane emitted from waste can theoretically be eliminated. As could the emissions of toxic gases like dioxins, furans, mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls which occur when waste is incinerated.
The other issue that the technology addresses is the current capacity to source green hydrogen solely from renewables. Using alternative technologies, wind and solar can be left dedicated to electricity production. To reach suggested targets of 24% of the world’s energy mix by 2050, green hydrogen production would demand 31,320 TWh of electricity – more than the 26,000 TWh of global power generation from all sources, and far more than the 3,000 TWh of wind and solar power generation used for electricity today.
Another key advantage is that the costs of this type of hydrogen could be offset significantly by the ‘gate-fees’ that local authorities typically require for treating waste, as well as the carbon credits for avoiding landfill methane emissions. In California, for example, municipalities must pay in excess of $100 per ton to have their waste processed.
By competing with these gate fees, H2 Industries believes that the cost of hydrogen it produces will be around half of the existing green hydrogen production technologies, and lower than the $1.50 per kilogram benchmark cost of grey hydrogen.
One thing that must be considered, however – and is often neglected due to some sneaky accounting – is the significant energy needed to dry to waste before it can be turned into hydrogen.
The Suez Canal project will be the first of its kind at this scale, although there are several others focused on producing hydrogen using waste feedstocks.
Boson Energy – a Luxembourg based company – has developed a plasma-assisted gasification process that uses extremely high temperatures to break waste down into hydrogen, carbon dioxide and a molten slurry that solidifies into a glassy rock that can be sold for profit and used in cement, concrete or road building. The company claims that the income from this could offset the cost of hydrogen production, and allow the hydrogen to be produced at zero or even sub-zero costs.
Ways2H, similarly, is looking to use a processed feedstock of Municipal Solid Waste, mixed with ceramic beads that have been heated to around 1,000°C. At this heat, the bulk of the waste is converted to methane, hydrogen, carbon monoxide and CO2, while a portion is left as solid char – which can be identified as ‘stored carbon.’ This char is recovered and burned as the supply of heat for the ceramic beads.
The mixture of gases then undergoes steam reforming, to produce hydrogen and CO2 from the methane – improving hydrogen yield by 50%. Depending on the initial feedstock, Ways2H claims that one ton of dry waste can produce up to 120 kilograms of hydrogen – although typical yields sit between 40 and 50 kilograms. This depends on the water content of the feedstock – which inherently boosts hydrogen content – with the 120 kg figure coming from Ways2H’s pilot in South America, which uses sewage sludge as its feedstock.
Last week, the UK also approved its second waste plastic to hydrogen plant, with the £20 million West Dunbartonshire facility using Powerhouse Energy’s technology aiming to produce 13,500 tons of hydrogen per year.