Hydrogen from methane reforming + CCS

carbon capture and storage

Currently, 95% of the global hydrogen production is based on fossil fuels. Conventionally, hydrogen is produced through steam methane reforming (SMR) of natural gas and has an average carbon intensity of 328 gCO2/kWh [i]. This fossil type of hydrogen is commonly referred to as ‘grey hydrogen’.

 

The emissions from this process can be reduced by capturing and permanently storing the CO2 coming from the SMR process. During the SMR process, high pressure steam (H2O) reacts with natural gas (CH4) and produces hydrogen (H2) and CO2. In the conventional hydrogen-making process the CO2 is usually vented, but it can be captured and transported to geological storage sites either on- or offshore [ii].[1] An estimated 71%-92% of CO2 produced during the process can be captured and stored (CCS) [iii],[iv], thereby lowering the emissions from the hydrogen production.

 

Another type of methane reforming suitable for hydrogen production is autothermal reforming of natural gas (ATR). ATR can achieve better separation and capture of CO2 and reach the upper limits of the carbon capture range (approx. 94.1 to 95%) [v].

 

Hydrogen produced via methane reforming is usually referred to as blue hydrogen.

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The hydrogen can also be produced by heating the natural gas in the absence of oxygen in a process called pyrolysis, which results in hydrogen and a fine carbon powder [vi],[vii], commonly referred to as carbon black. This powder can be used in different types of products, ranging from newspaper ink to asphalt [viii]. If the resulting carbon black is not further processed and released into the atmosphere, this process can potentially result in permanent carbon storage as well [ix].

 

[1] A detailed explanation of CCS can be found in Bellona’s previous work on industrial climate action and will be available in the coming chapters of this report. 

How it's made

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Climate impact

If gas with low upstream emissions is used and most of the CO2 is captured and stored, the hydrogen produced via methane reforming can be low-carbon. 

Converting natural gas to hydrogen can only be considered low-carbon when a very high proportion of the CO2 is captured and stored and when the emissions from natural gas production and leakage are small.  If these conditions are met, hydrogen from SMR with CCS can be a low carbon energy carrier and thus be a tool for reducing emissions in some hard-to-abate sectors. When the emitted CO2 is captured and permanently stored, the hydrogen has a smaller carbon footprint than its fossil equivalent and can be used as a heat source for industry or as a feedstock for chemicals.


Provided that upstream emissions of the natural gas supply chain are low and most of the CO2 from the SMR process is permanently stored, hydrogen from SMR+CCS can achieve significant emission reductions [x], especially in industrial applications. When used in the direct reduction ironmaking process, low-carbon hydrogen has a >80% emission abatement potential compared to BF-BOF steel production [2], by emitting around 0.4 tCO2 per tonne of crude steel. However, fugitive greenhouse gas emissions from the extraction of fossil fuels also need to be factored into that calculation [xi]; if these emissions are too high, the potential emission reduction is significantly lower [3]. Overall, hydrogen from renewable electricity has a higher mitigation potential of >95%. 


The addition of CCS to the hydrogen process results in a 5-14% reduction in efficiency levels, so finding applications where the hydrogen gas can be directly used can help to avoid further efficiency losses. In order to calculate and ensure climate benefits, all emissions in the SMR+CCS including possible methane leakage should be accounted for [xii].


Even though hydrogen made from natural gas with CCS is not zero carbon, it could help lower emissions in energy intensive industries. By encouraging larger infrastructural investments and penalising the use of unabated natural gas, hydrogen from SMR+CCS can also provide a push for the more rapid roll-out of electrolysis hydrogen and low-cost renewable electricity on a larger scale.

[2] BF-BOF stands for ‘blast furnace-basic oxygen furnace’ steel production and is the most common way of producing new steel.

[3] To avoid high life cycle emissions, fracking and shale gas operations and gas systems with a high rate of leakage should be excluded from the production of SMR + CCS hydrogen.

CO2 infrastructure

The planning and development of a hydrogen network is dependent on the expected supply and demand. In terms of its transport and use, hydrogen from SMR+CCS would benefit from the same sort of cross-border approach for infrastructure as hydrogen from renewable electricity.

 

Additionally,  hydrogen plants with CO2 capture would need an adjacent CO2 transport and storage infrastructure, which could then also be used for the decarbonisation of energy intensive industries in the vicinity[xiii].

Climate score

7/10

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Climate change mitigation 

If the upstream leakage of natural gas is prevented and most CO2 emissions are captured and stored, hydrogen from methane reforming + CCS can be low carbon. However, it cannot be carbon neutral, since it's produced from a fossil fuel. 

5/10

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Efficient use of resources 

Reforming methane and capturing and storing the resulting CO2 uses significant resources. First, resources are used in the extraction and processing of fossil fuels, then the capture of CO2 and in the final step of using up geological CO2 stores. 

6/10

Deployment readiness 

Large scale deployment of hydrogen from methane reforming and CCS is feasible now and can therefore help reduce emissions in energy intensive industries such as steel. Even though it requires a lot of additional infrastructure in terms of CO2 capture, transport and storage, this infrastructure can be shared with energy intensive industries. 

Know of relevant research or projects to add to our library?

References

[i] National Research Council and National Academy of Engineering. 2004. The Hydrogen Economy: Opportunities, Costs, Barriers, and R&D Needs. THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS, Washington, D.C.

[ii] Dincer, I. and C. Acar. 2015. Review and evaluation of hydrogen production methods for better sustainability. International Journal of Hydrogen Energy 40 (34): 11094-11111. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360319914034119

[iii] CE Delft. 2018. Feasibility study into blue hydrogen: Technical, economic & sustainability analysis.

[iv] IEAGHG. 2017. Technical report: Feasibility study into blue hydrogen Technical, economic & sustainability analysis.

[v] IFPEN and SINTEF. 20202. Hydrogen for Europe Final report of the pre-study. Available at: https://www.sintef.no/globalassets/sintef-energi/pdf/hydrogen-for-europe-pre-study-report-version-4_med-omslag-2020-03-17.pdf/

[vi] BASF. 2019. The quest for CO2 -free hydrogen – methane pyrolysis at scale. Available at : https://arpa-e.energy.gov/sites/default/files/1%20Scale%20up%20BASF.pdf

[vii] Kreysa et al. 2010. Decarbonisation of Fossil Energy via Methane Pyrolysis. The Future Role of Hydrogen in Petrochemistry and Energy Supply DGMK Conference October 4-6, 2010, Berlin, Germany Available at: https://www.osti.gov/etdeweb/servlets/purl/21360655

[viii] Polymer solutions. 2015. Available at: https://www.polymersolutions.com/blog/carbon-black/

[ix] IPCC, 2005: IPCC Special Report on Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage. Prepared by Working Group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Metz, B., O. Davidson, H. C. de Coninck, M. Loos, and L. A. Meyer (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, 442 pp.

[x] Balcombe et al. 2018. The carbon credentials of hydrogen gas networks and supply chains. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 91: 1077-1088. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1364032118302983

[xi] IEA. 2020. Methane tracker 2020. Available at: https://www.iea.org/reports/methane-tracker-s2020/methane-from-oil-gas

[xii] UCS. 2014. Infographic: The Climate Risks of Natural Gas — Fugitive Methane Emissions. Available at: https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/fugitive-methane-emissions

[xiii] Rijksoverheid. 2020. Kabinetsvisie waterstof. Available at: https://www.rijksoverheid.nl/documenten/kamerstukken/2020/03/30/kamerbrief-over-kabinetsvisie-waterstof