In a significant move towards supporting the global energy transition and combating climate change, Sinopec, the Chinese oil giant, is set to launch the world’s largest green hydrogen project.
With an investment of 3 billion yen ($425 million), the 260-megawatt Coca facility located in Xinjiang, northwest China, is scheduled to commence operations by the end of May, although an exact date has not been specified.
According to a report from the Specialized Energy Platform, commercial operation of the project is expected to begin on June 30, 2023. Sinopec aims to produce over 2 million tonnes of green hydrogen annually by 2025, with plans to launch projects as large as gigawatts.
The green hydrogen produced at the Coca facility will replace gray hydrogen derived from natural gas at a nearby oil refinery operated by Sinopec Tahi, a refining and chemical company. Hydrogen plays a crucial role in oil refineries for desulfurizing crude oil and producing petrochemicals.
To ensure a continuous flow of hydrogen along the pipeline, the Coca facility will utilize a reservoir capable of storing 210,280 cubic meters of hydrogen. The project also involves the collaboration of three local companies, Longi, Peric, and Cokerel Gingley Hydrogen, which will provide 13 electrolyzers for the project.
Green hydrogen is produced by using renewable electricity to split water molecules, offering a clean alternative to fossil fuels, especially in industries that are challenging to decarbonize.
Initially, the largest green hydrogen project was proposed to be operated by a 1-gigawatt solar farm. However, in June 2022, it was reported that the size of the solar panels was reduced to 361 megawatts. The solar plant will supply only 58% of the required electricity, with the remaining portion expected to come from the local coal-based grid. Sinopec expressed intentions to source the remaining electricity from nearby wind farms or other clean energy sources.
It is important to note that for a hydrogen project to be considered “green” or “renewable,” it must not utilize fossil-fuel-powered electricity during the production process. Generally, green hydrogen projects require approximately 2 MW of renewable energy per 1 MW of electrolysis to account for variations in wind and solar power.
The Coca facility’s capacity will surpass the current largest global project, a 150 MW project owned by Ningxia Baofing Energy in northern China. However, it is expected that the Coca facility will not hold the title for long as the largest operational green hydrogen system.
Another Sinopec project, about one-third in size, is currently under construction in Ordos, located in the Inner Mongolia region of northwest China. The completion date for this project is yet to be disclosed. Additionally, Sinopec has announced a 20 billion yen ($2.8 billion) green hydrogen project in Inner Mongolia, which will transport 100,400 tons of hydrogen annually through a new pipeline spanning several kilometers to Beijing.
While China already operates pipelines for gray hydrogen derived from fossil fuels, this project will be the country’s first green hydrogen transmission line from west to east. The pipeline will include ports to enable access to potential new hydrogen sources.
Sinopec has not revealed the electrolysis capacity of the Ordos project, but it is expected to produce around 30,000 tons of hydrogen per year. Comparatively, the Coca project will produce nearly 20,390 tons per year, suggesting that the Ordos project will have a capacity of approximately 450 megawatts. Chinese media reports indicate that the Ordos project will rely on 270 megawatts of wind power and an undisclosed amount of solar power. Hybrid projects that combine wind and solar power are expected to generate more electricity over 24 hours than those relying solely on solar power, potentially reducing the required electrolysis capacity.
As part of the Ordos project, 288,000 cubic meters of hydrogen storage will be implemented, along with a pipeline to supply hydrogen to the Zhongtian Heshuang Ordos deep coal processing plant. Currently, the plant uses hydrogen derived from coal, which is considered one of the dirtiest forms of hydrogen, to produce synthetic chemicals.