04/04/2022  •  5 mins read

The Hydrogen Game Changer

Techbyte Series #03

Aishah Kamaludin | Illustrations by Ahmad Saiful Syazwan Ahmad Jamil

What is hydrogen?

Hydrogen is a clean and versatile energy carrier that can be used as a fuel for mobility and power, for heating and as well as feedstock for industry.

A combustible gas with no colour and odourless gas, hydrogen is very light and almost 15 times lighter than air, so it tends to escape into space. It is also very reactive, which is why hydrogen is almost always combined with other elements in nature, such as water, hydrocarbons and other living organisms. Therefore, although it is abundant, we hardly get hydrogen directly from the earth's surface.

How do we get hydrogen?

For this reason, hydrogen must be extracted. There are several ways to produce hydrogen, involving a range of feedstocks and technologies. Globally, hydrogen is categorised by its colour to distinguish the production route and the impact on CO2 emissions.

Grey hydrogen is produced using fossil fuels like natural gas and coal, which release CO2 into the air in the process. The technologies involved are steam reforming and coal gasification. 

Blue Hydrogen is made in a similar manner with introduction of carbon capture technologies to prevent CO2 from being released, enabling the captured carbon to be safely stored deep underground or utilised in industrial processes.

Green hydrogen, the cleanest of these three varieties, produces zero carbon emissions. It is produced from water using electrolysis powered by renewable energy like solar and offshore wind.

At PETRONAS, we have experience extracting blue hydrogen as a co-product at our gas facilities, and now we are exploring the commercial production of green hydrogen. 

"We see a promising future in the green hydrogen produced by splitting water via electrolysis. It is a zero-carbon energy carrier with the greatest potential to drive and power a much greener world if it can be produced economically. " 

Addressing cost and scalability

The greatest barrier to producing green hydrogen has always been the cost. 

Currently, electrolysis of green hydrogen is costly compared to grey hydrogen at the same time catching up with efficiency and scale for wider use. 

To address this, our research team from the Hydrogen Technology Programme, Group Research & Technology, in collaboration with Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), looked into hydrogen production from water through electrolysis technology, covering five areas – bipolar plate design, membrane electrode assembly, coating materials, construction materials and economy of scale.

The collaboration has resulted in the PETRONAS proprietary electrolyser design enabling higher efficiency through increased hydrogen yield per power consumption (kWh) - PETRONAS Advanced Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) Electrolyser.

It is a dynamic R&D approach to drive end-product cost competitiveness and commercial viability in meeting the Strategic Technology Objective (STO) of producing green hydrogen at USD2/kg by 2025.

Our current PEM electrolyser is able to produce highly affordable green hydrogen at a production cost of less than USD4/kg from market rate of USD5-6/kg. 

The electrolyser is indeed a game-changer in making green hydrogen a cost-effective energy source option for consumers.

This milestone brings us closer to achieving PETRONAS Hydrogen Business's goal of being a competitive H₂ solutions provider and supporting our aspiration for net zero carbon emissions by 2050. 

On a bigger scale, hydrogen will support Malaysia in the growing green energy and renewables market, concurrently offering ways to decarbonise a range of sectors such as iron and steel, long-haul transport and chemicals, and improve air quality and strengthen energy security.

The green hydrogen production testing facility at the PETRONAS Research Sdn Bhd (PRSB) compound in Bangi. The buggy in the photo has been converted into one powered by hydrogen fuel cells instead of batteries, to showcase the greener energy source's versatility.

Embracing hydrogen as the future of energy

PETRONAS Hydrogen was established in 2020 under the Gas and New Energy business, for PETRONAS to go beyond hydrocarbon sources and become an end-to-end solutions provider of hydrogen. 

PETRONAS Hydrogen provides accessible and innovative solutions towards a greener future for generations to come. Our venture into hydrogen builds upon our experience in extracting blue hydrogen from our facilities and our experience as a world-renowned, reliable LNG supplier. With the expanding renewables portfolio, solid partnerships and advanced electrolysis R&D, PETRONAS is also poised to become a competitive green hydrogen solutions provider. As we leverage upon our proximity advantage to key hydrogen demand centres in Asia we continue to grow our global presence in the hydrogen value chain.

PETRONAS also recently collaborated with Japan's ENEOS Corporation (ENEOS) to jointly embark on a technical-commercial joint-study of a hydrogen supply chain. This includes hydrogen production and its transportation in methylcyclohexane (MCH) form, where hydrogen is converted from its original gaseous state into a liquid form to enable large volume deliveries.

PETRONAS and ENEOS will also explore low-carbon hydrogen production from PETRONAS petrochemical facilities, and in the future, green hydrogen produced using renewable energy. We are also conducting a feasibility study with IHI Corporation and TNB Genko on the low carbon hydrogen and low carbon ammonia supply chain in Malaysia.

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