Chinese state-owned oil company Sinopec has lined up contractors to supply equipment for what it is being called the world’s largest solar-to-hydrogen project, to be located in the remote Xinjiang province.

The company — China’s largest hydrogen producer — has selected Cockerill Jingli Hydrogen, Longi Hydrogen and the 718th Research Institute of China State Shipbuilding Corporation (PERIC) to supply 13 alkaline-based hydrogen electrolysers under contracts valued at 1.07 billion yuan (US$160 million).

The order forms part of a project calling for 52 electrolyser sets, each with capacity of 1000 cubic metres of hydrogen per hour, produced by passing electricity through water.

Spearheaded by Sinopec's New Star Xinjiang Green Hydrogen New Energy unit, the 3 billion yuan project will feature a 300-megawatt photovoltaic plant, a 20,000-tonne-per-annum hydrogen electrolysis plant and a hydrogen storage tank with capacity of 210,000 cubic metres.

The project also encompasses hydrogen pipelines able to transport 28,000 cubic metres per hour.

Scheduled to come online in mid-2023, the project will supply hydrogen to its Tahe Refining & Chemical to replace fossil fuels and help reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 485,000 tpa.

Cockerill Jingli Hydrogen, a joint venture between Suzhou Jingli Hydrogen Production Equipment Company Ltd and Belgium-based John Cockerill Group, is already one of China’s leading suppliers of alkaline-based hydrogen electrolysers. Last year, it produced more than 50 electrolysers with capacity to produce 1000 cubic metres per hour of hydrogen.

With two production sites already equipped for manufacturing electrolysers on this scale, and another on the way with capacity for 1500 cubic metres per hour, Cockerill Jingli Hydrogen reports that it will soon be able to produce 1 gigawatt of electrolyser capacity annually.

Partner Longi is one of China’s largest solar photovoltaic makers but also has annual capacity to supply for 500 megawatt electrolysers. This will rise to 1.5 GW by the end of this year and to 5 GW by 2025.

Established in 1966, PERIC recently delivered a set of cabinet-type polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) hydrogen equipment to an unnamed chemical plant in Malaysia.

PERIC has aligned with ABB to leverage the latter’s automation, electrification and digital solutions within its projects to develop highly efficient electrolysers.

PERIC will use ABB’s rectifiers, distributed control systems, energy management, advanced analytics, instrumentation and telecommunication systems in its development of green hydrogen solutions.

Hydrogen push

A recent report by Shell quoted studies suggesting that China’s total hydrogen production can surpass 580 million tpa of coal equivalent by 2060, accounting for 16% of the nation’s expected energy consumption.

Growth will be mainly driven by the use of hydrogen as a fuel for industry and long-distance transportation, Shell said.

Sinopec has committed to increasing investment in green hydrogen projects as part of its mission to achieve a carbon emissions peak before 2030 and carbon neutrality in 2050, 10 years ahead of the Chinese government's 2060 target.

By 2025, the company plans to raise its green hydrogen production capacity to 500,000 tpa, compared with its current output of 3.9 million tpa of grey hydrogen from fossil fuels.

Sinopec is expected to commission its first green hydrogen project in Ordos city in northern China in mid-2022.

The project, the company’s first green hydrogen for a chemical manufacturing project, will be able to produce 10,000 tpa of green hydrogen for use at a local coal-based chemical plant.

The company will soon commission another PEM electrolyser, which uses solid proton-conducting polymer as the electrolyte and deionised water, and is able to produce 1.12 tonnes per day of green hydrogen with 99.9995% purity.

The project, with capacity of 2.5 megawatts, is being installed at Sinopec’s Zhongyuan oilfield, in Henan province.

The project is able to save one kilowatt hour of electricity for each cubic metre of hydrogen produced, due to the PEM water electrolysis technology, compared with an alkaline electrolyser, according to Sinopec.

China is already the world’s top hydrogen producer, with an output of around 20 million tpa, most of which is grey hydrogen produced from reforming and naphtha cracking units or gas refinery byproducts.

A recent white paper from the China Hydrogen Energy Alliance says China’s demand for hydrogen will rise to 35 million tonnes in 2030, growing to 60 million tonnes by 2050, when it will account for 10% of the energy demand mix.

Are you missing out on ACCELERATE?
Gain valuable insight into the global oil and gas industry's energy transition from ACCELERATE, the free weekly newsletter from Upstream and Recharge.