The UK could soon be home to yet another major hydrogen production project.
US oil and gas supermajor ExxonMobil is exploring the potential creation of a hydrogen hub at a site near Southampton that hosts its Hawley refinery.
Exxon has signed a memorandum of understanding with UK gas distribution company SGN and Australian investment bank Macquarie’s Green Investment Group to assess the potential for hydrogen production and carbon capture, a key process in the creation of zero-emission blue hydrogen.
A previous feasibility study carried out by SGN and Macquarie found annual hydrogen demand from the Southampton industrial cluster could reach 37 TWh by 2050, including heating demand from 800,000 homes in the south of England.
With the right government support, Exxon could begin producing about 4.3 TWh of hydrogen a year from 2030 and capture about 2 million tonnes of CO2 per annum.
“With well-designed policy and regulations, hydrogen can help reduce the emissions of the Southampton industrial area that provides vital products for modern life,” said Joe Blommaert, president of ExxonMobil’s Low Carbon Solutions business.
Of course, the use of hydrogen in the UK’s natural gas network is still in development phase. The government is expected to allow hydrogen blending of up to 20% in the coming years but will not make a decision on whether to convert the entire natural gas network to 100% hydrogen until 2026.
Still, the fact that ExxonMobil, famously one of the biggest climate sceptics among the oil and gas majors, is pursuing hydrogen as an industrial decarbonisation strategy is yet more evidence of its versatility as a tool for getting the UK to net zero.
The potential creation of the Southampton facility follows a series of announcements for new and expanded hydrogen hubs along the UK’s south coast.
In mid-November, the Port of Shoreham in West Sussex granted H2 Green permission to produce hydrogen through electrolysis to power the Port’s fleet of heavy goods vehicles and forklifts before ramping up production to serve the 800 HGVs that use Port of Shoreham daily for other organisations.
Portsmouth International Port is building a modular electrolyser to produce green hydrogen for the port and the local area as part of the Shipping, Hydrogen and Port Ecosystems UK (SHAPE UK) project. It has also partnered with Cox Powertrain to convert a diesel engine to dual fuel hydrogen, a technology of particular interest to the maritime industry.
UK engineering and environment consultants Ricardo in February launched Hydrogen Sussex, through which to pool expertise from academia, industry, transport, and utilities to position hydrogen as a mainstream energy carrier on the south coast. Ricardo is investing £2.5 million in a hydrogen development and test facility in Shoreham.
Head further east and the Bacton hub on the Norfolk coast, which receives natural gas from fields in the North Sea and parts of northwest Europe, has the potential to be turned into a major hydrogen hub, producing blue hydrogen from natural gas and green hydrogen from the region’s considerable offshore wind resources, according to a recent study.
The UK’s coastal ports all around the country are realising the potential of being a first-mover in the hydrogen space. All that is needed is the right regulatory environment to turn this plethora of exploratory projects into major industrial hubs.
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