A Chinese coal mining company has started commissioning what it claims is the world’s largest solar-powered hydrogen facility, in China's northwestern Ningxia autonomous region.

Baofeng Energy, Ningxia's major coal producer, is sponsoring the project, which is part of a national pilot programme for developing renewable energy.

For Baofeng, the startup is a major step toward a target of cutting 50% of its carbon dioxide emissions in 10 years and achieving carbon neutrality in 20 years. It will also help China reduce the nation's carbon footprint as it targets peak CO2 emissions in 2030 and carbon neutrality in 2060.

The facility will be able to cut coal use by 254,000 tonnes, thereby reducing CO2 emissions by 445,000 tonnes per annum, said project manager Wang Qirong.

Electrolyser capabilities

The system has two 100-megawatt photovoltaic power-generation units, and two electrolysers with production capacity of 160 million cubic metres per annum of hydrogen. The electrolyser splits water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen, and Baofeng claims it is the world’s largest hydrogen electrolyser. It is also equipped to produce 80 MMcm per annum of oxygen.

It costs 1.34 yuan ($0.2) to produce 1 cubic metre of hydrogen at the unit, Baofeng said.

The system's key equipment consists of two 10,000 cubic-metres-per-hour electrolysers, a gas separator and a hydrogen purifier.

The unit also includes offsite facilities for hydrogen transportation and storage, and hydrogen refilling stations.

It cost 1.4 billion yuan to build the facility, Baofeng said.

The green hydrogen replaces coal for use as feedstock while the oxygen will be used as fuel for producing petrochemicals such as polyethylene and polypropylene.

Coking unit plan

Baofeng is an integrated coal and petrochemicals business with annual coal production capacity of 5.1 million tonnes, and 300,000 tpa of polyethylene as well as 300,0000 tpa of polypropylene capacity.

The company also plans to build a 3 million tpa coking unit, whose coke oven gas can produce 1.2 billion cubic metres of grey hydrogen per annum.

In the meantime, local Ningxia authorities are rolling out a number of initiatives to capitalise on the region’s rich sunshine resources by developing a few hydrogen projects.

On the list is for State Power Investment Corporation, one of China’s top five power utilities, to develop two alkaline water electrolysis units, each with capacity of 500 nominal condition cubic metres per hour (500Nm3/h) in Yinchuan, the region’s capital. When completed, the unit will be able to produce 357 tpa of green hydrogen.

Ningxia is rich in sunshine resources, averaging 2835 hours of sunshine a year and total sunshine percentage of 64%.