Petronas partners with University on hydrogen from biomass waste research

A £1 million research agreement has been signed between Heriot-Watt University and Malaysia’s largest energy company Petronas to collaboratively discover efficient methods for producing hydrogen from biomass waste.

The study will enhance methods for generating hydrogen from biomass and other waste products through thermochemical processes. Researchers will also look at solutions for the main obstacles to the spread of hydrogen as an alternative energy source: scalability and storage.

The effort is a partnership under the Petronas Centre of Excellence in Subsurface Engineering and Energy Transition (PaceSet), one of the three international technological hubs the business and its academic partners established to drive low-carbon and greener energy solutions. Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh is home to PaceSet.

“Hydrogen is viewed as a crucial contributor to the energy revolution, but existing production and storage technologies have several scaling issues,” said Professor Raffaella Ocone, who is directing the project at the university’s Institute of Geoenergy Engineering. Our interdisciplinary team is well-positioned to overcome the present challenges by bringing together engineers, scientists, geologists, and industrial partners. Biomass and biomass-derived fuels may be utilized to manufacture hydrogen sustainably.

As part of a circular economy route and to produce more hydrogen than is presently possible using current production techniques, our study will first develop new technologies to process and synthesize hydrogen from various biomass waste products. Because hydrogen still makes up a very minor portion of our entire energy mix, our focus will be on technologies that can scale. This needs to change right away if we want to achieve our net zero goals. The success of our project will depend on the participation of collaborators, and we want like-minded partners to join us.

Aimaro Sanna, an associate professor of chemical and process engineering at Heriot-Watt University and a co-investigator on the study, stated: “Generating new energy sources from waste products addresses several global concerns, such as reducing landfill and lowering carbon emissions. This study on hydrogen is an important step in tackling the rising amount of waste produced annually across several industries and developing hydrogen’s potential as a sustainable energy source in the future.

The research will first concentrate on using the approximately 127 million tonnes of agricultural waste produced yearly in Malaysia and the projected four million tonnes of waste and by-products produced by distilleries in the UK to produce hydrogen. The research team will also look at ways to store pure hydrogen without using natural gas to stabilize it, using old oil wells that have been emptied of their oil.

“Sustainability is at the foundation of Petronas’ business strategy,” stated Gboyega Bishop Falope, head of Petronas Group Research and Technology (UK Research and Technology). In keeping with our goal of having net zero carbon emissions by 2050, we place a high priority on lowering emissions through technical developments and digitalization. We are certain that this study will increase the contribution that hydrogen can make to the global energy mix and to the comprehensive approach that results in a sustainable future.