As companies throughout the world ramp up efforts to decrease greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years, Phillips 66 believes hydrogen may help diversify the energy mix.
According to vice-president of emerging energy Heath DePriest, after introducing a lower-carbon unit called Emerging Energy in January of this year, the US independent refiner received a flurry of calls from groups looking for project investments, as well as a fair amount of criticism from peers skeptical of its hydrogen initiatives.
“We spoke with a lot of our peers, and we heard a lot of people say, ‘That is really not practical, hydrogen, that is 2030-plus,'” says the researcher. DePriest stated this recently at the Rice Baker Institute in Houston. “However, when we witness individuals doing it, we remember the phrase, ‘The one who thinks it is impossible should not stop the person who is doing it.'”
Through Phillips 66’s Switzerland-based COOP retail joint venture, the Emerging Energy division is already supervising a few hydrogen initiatives, including plans to study hydrogen as a fuel alternative for light-duty and heavy-duty cars.
However, hydrogen offers a wide range of potential applications outside of the automotive sector, where hydrogen fuel cells have been largely eclipsed by electric vehicles in recent years. While most conversations about decarbonizing aviation focus on sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), a few firms, like European jet manufacturer Airbus, seek to produce hydrogen combustion-powered aircraft by the 2030s. DePriest believes that a variety of techniques will be required to assist various sectors transition away from fossil fuels.
“It’s going to take a long time for people to electrify planes,” DePriest added. “And because today’s stable aviation fuel can only be combined 50:50 with traditional fossil fuels, how can we get to 100%?”
DePriest’s visit to Rice came just days before Phillips 66 announced new greenhouse gas reduction goals on September 30. The business promised to reduce Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions — those from directly owned and operated assets and energy consumption, respectively — by 30 percent by 2030, compared to current levels.
Unlike some of its US refining rivals, Phillips 66 has addressed concerns about its Scope 3 emissions with a promise to decrease greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the consumption of its products by 15% this decade, despite overwhelming support for decarbonization.
Increased demand for renewable hydrogen products might help Phillips 66 meet its lower-carbon targets. Its new sustainability strategy calls for it to create 150,000 metric tonnes of renewable hydrogen per year by 2030, at a time when many experts predict hydrogen demand to increase in the aviation, shipping, and steel industries. But it’s still unclear what Phillips 66 means by “renewable.”
The US refiner has expressed support for carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies that promise to absorb emissions generated by the creation of hydrogen from natural gas, a process known as “blue hydrogen.” On the other side, CEO Greg Garland stated at a media roundtable this summer that the business sees a “big technology gap” that has to be bridged before sectors can rely on so-called “green” hydrogen created using solar- and wind-powered electrolyzers.
Despite the fact that environmental justice organizations like as Earthjustice have accused oil and gas companies of utilizing blue hydrogen and CCS to continue exploiting fossil fuels, they look to be on track to receive considerable funding in the coming years. CCS projects, for example, are set to get about $3.6 billion in government financing under the proposed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in the United States Congress.
Despite its preference for blue hydrogen techniques in the short term, Phillips 66 has placed a bet on both horses by agreeing to participate in a green hydrogen effort in the UK through its 230,000 b/d Humber refinery in Killingholme. It did not reply to a request for comment on how its new sustainability strategy defines renewable hydrogen objectives.
In today’s terms, however, any argument between green and blue approaches boils down to issues of scale and efficiency, according to DePriest.
“I think such [green hydrogen] initiatives are essential,” he added, “but the magnitude is something to consider.” “The biggest electrolyzer in the United States, producing one-tenth the quantity of hydrogen produced by an average hydrogen plant at a refinery.”