British oil giant BP is looking to create Europe’s largest renewable-energy-based hydrogen production facility at a refinery in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.  

The company has teamed up with Nouryon (formerly known as AkzoNobel Specialty Chemicals) and the Port of Rotterdam to study the feasibility of a 250-megawatt water electrolysis facility that could produce up to 45,000 tons of green hydrogen a year.

The refinery currently desulfurizes products using hydrogen made from hydrocarbons. Replacing this with hydrogen produced from water using renewable energy could potentially cut 350,000 tons of CO2 emissions per year, Nouryon said in a news release.

The renewable power would likely come from excess wind and solar production that might otherwise be curtailed.

If the project goes ahead then Nouryon would build and operate the facility and the Port of Rotterdam would provide local infrastructure and potentially develop a green hydrogen hub in the area. A final investment decision on the project is expected in 2022.

Oil and gas players drawn to green hydrogen

The news follows the unveiling of similar plans for a hydrogen hub in Amsterdam last October.

That project involved Nouryon partnering with Tata Steel and the Port of Amsterdam to study building a 100-megawatt renewable energy-powered water electrolysis facility capable of producing 15,000 tons of hydrogen a year, plus oxygen for use at Tata Steel’s IJmuiden Works.

At the time, Nouryon claimed the Port of Amsterdam green hydrogen cluster would be Europe’s largest, beating previous large-scale projects including a 20-megawatt water electrolysis unit in Delfzijl, the Netherlands.

This week’s announcement underscores not only how rapidly the nascent green hydrogen industry is scaling up in Europe but also how the fuel is attracting attention from the oil and gas industry.

Anglo-Dutch oil major Shell, for example, has long touted the use of hydrogen in the transport sector.

In 2017, Shell published a study by the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy that concluded 113 million fuel-cell electric vehicles could save around 75 million tons of fuel and 220 million tons of CO2 by 2050.

And in the “sky” scenario that Shell published last year, the company even touted hydrogen as the perfect energy carrier for the aviation industry.

BP warms up to the idea

BP has hitherto been more hesitant to embrace hydrogen, although in 2016 it inked a cooperation agreement with the German power company Uniper to develop a green hydrogen-based power-to-gas plant at a refinery in Lingen, Germany.

BP went on to demonstrate how renewable hydrogen could be used in refinery operations at Lingen last year, albeit with the fuel provided by carmaker Audi.

BP’s partnership with Nouryon and Port of Rotterdam seems to indicate the oil firm is aiming to step up its hydrogen game.  

"The use of green hydrogen, made from water with renewable energy, has the potential to deliver significant emissions reductions at Rotterdam,” said Ruben Beens, CEO of BP Netherlands, in press materials.

“Working with Nouryon and the Port of Rotterdam will allow us to explore and fully understand the technical, operational and financial dimensions of this potential opportunity."