Europe’s largest polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) water electrolyser commenced production of green hydrogen today at Shell’s Energy and Chemicals Park in Rhineland near Cologne.

The fully operating plant, which is part of the REFHYNE European consortium and is funded by the EU’s Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU), is the first to employ this technology on such a wide scale in a refinery.

The Rhineland electrolyser will generate up to 1,300 tonnes of green hydrogen per year using renewable energy. This will initially be used to create low-carbon fuels. Green hydrogen may potentially be utilized in the future for manufacturing, to heat houses, and to power transportation.

The REFHYNE project is at the vanguard of the attempt to supply Europe with green hydrogen. Hydrogen will be critical in achieving the European Green Deal’s climate ambitions by assisting in the decarbonisation of more difficult-to-abate sectors such as transport and industry. In 2020, the European Commission published a ground-breaking Hydrogen Strategy with the goal of establishing an enabling policy framework.

Bart Biebuyck, Executive Director, Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking, said “In order to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, we need to fundamentally reshape our energy system. Clean hydrogen will play a key role in e-mobility and in industry, as it has great potential for decarbonising sectors where direct use of renewable energy is not possible. Accordingly, we want to accelerate the market launch of fuel cells and hydrogen technology and tap into their advantages in Europe.”

Armin Laschet, North Rhine-Westphalia’s Minister-President, said: “We are a hydrogen region. With the commissioning of the largest PEM electrolysis plant in Europe, we are further expanding our leading role in this field. We are therefore laying the foundation for a modern and green industry, with highly skilled jobs. Today, 30% of German demand for hydrogen already comes from North Rhine-Westphalia’s industry. Estimates predict that demand will double by 2030. This is why we need innovative solutions that will meet the demand for CO2-neutral hydrogen. Projects such as Refhyne demonstrate how innovation can benefit both the environment and the economy.”

“This project demonstrates a new kind of energy future and a model of lower carbon energy production that can be replicated worldwide,” Shell’s Downstream Director, Huibert Vigeveno, said at the official opening ceremony. “Shell wants to become a leading supplier of green hydrogen for industrial and transport customers in Germany,” he added. “In doing so, we want to be involved in the whole process — from generating power using offshore wind to increased production and distribution of hydrogen across all sectors. We want to be the supplier and partner of choice for our customers as we help them decarbonise.”

PEM electrolysers are more compact than conventional alkaline electrolysers. They are well suited for usage with renewable energy sources due to their ability to function dynamically with variable electrical loads. This enables PEM electrolysers to operate during the cheapest periods of wind and solar energy generation.

Nedim Husomanovic

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