Shell to build world’s largest PEM hydrogen electrolysis plant in Germany

Shell and ITM Power will build the world’s largest PEM hydrogen electrolysis plant at the Rheinland refinery in Wesseling, Germany. The 140,000-barrel per day (bpd) Wesseling refinery, together with the former Godorf refinery near Cologne-Godorf, forms Shell’s 325,000 bpd integrated Rheinland refinery, Germany’s largest.

With a capacity of 10 megawatts (MW), the hydrogen electrolysis pant will be used primarily for the processing of refinery products. The technology is also being tested for possible use in other sectors.

The European consortium of Shell, ITM Power, SINTEF, thinkstep and Element Energy signed an agreement for the project with a total investment, including integration into the refinery, amounting to around EUR 20 million (USD 24.44 million). This project is supported by the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen 2 Joint Undertaking, under Grant Agreement No. 779579, which will contribute half of the project cost.

After the official start, the experts will begin with the detailed technical planning and approval process. The plant named “Refhyne” is scheduled to go into operation in 2020. It will be the first large-scale industrial application of the so-called polymer electrolyte membrane or PEM technology.

Electrolysis is an important technology for the production of hydrogen to be used as an energy carrier. One of the advantages of PEM electrolysis is its ability to operate at high current densities, which can result in reduced operational costs, especially for systems coupled with very dynamic energy sources such as wind and solar, where sudden spikes in energy input would otherwise result in uncaptured energy.

“The new plant makes it possible to extract hydrogen from electricity instead of natural gas. In addition, the proposed plant can contribute to the stability of the grid and facilitate the use of renewable electricity,” says Lori Ryerkerk, executive vice president of Shell Manufacturing. “Generated as green hydrogen with renewable electricity, it will help boost energy efficiency, reduce the CO2 intensity of the site, which is an important goal for us.”

The Rheinland refinery requires around 180,000 tonnes of hydrogen per year, which is currently produced mainly from steam reforming from natural gas. The new plant can produce an additional 1,300 tonnes of hydrogen annually, which are fully integrated into the refinery processes, for example for the desulphurization of conventional fuels.

“We are pleased to be working with the European Union and helping to develop Europe’s future energy system by testing this technology at the Wesseling site. If successful, there is a possibility that this technology will be expanded in our refinery and used in other manufacturing facilities. We could then also deliver hydrogen to customers outside the refinery,” said Thomas Zengerly, director of the Shell Rheinland Refinery.

Hydrogen can play an important role in the energy transition. Today, hydrogen is already being used in fuel cell vehicles as well as in industrial applications. In transportation, hydrogen can help improve on-site air quality because fuel cell vehicles only emit water vapor. When recovered from renewable sources, hydrogen helps reduce CO2 emissions from road transport. Shell is involved in several initiatives to build a hydrogen filling station network in a number of markets, including Germany.

“The establishment of greenhouse gas-neutral industrial processes is certainly one of the greatest challenges of this century,” Michael Theben, head of Climate Protection, Ministry of Economic Affairs, Innovation, Digitalization and Energy, State of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), Germany. “In addition to evolutionary steps, as we see them today, in the future, however, it will primarily depend on ‘jump innovations.’ The state government of North Rhine-Westphalia supports industry in this transformation process and welcomes the establishment of PEM electrolysis. It is an important building block for future innovative industrial processes.”

“Renewable electricity can support decarbonization not only in the energy sector but also through sectoral integration of other carbon-intensive industries, such as refining. Green hydrogen is a key factor in this process and contributes to the goals of the Energy Union. We therefore support the innovation activity. The Refhyne project is a great example, thanks to the world’s largest PEM electrolysis application in a refinery,” said Tudor Constantinescu, principal advisor to the Director-General for Energy at the Commission of the European Union in Brussels.

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