The market for industrial hydrogen—chemical production, petroleum refining, metals treating and electrical applications—is growing strongly, even without the existence of a hydrogen-based transportation system. Sales of hydrogen gas in 2005 were around $750 million. More than 200 production sites in the US (tallied by Argonne National Laboratory in 2003) delivered about 9 million tons of the gas.
Praxair, an industrial gas company, expects the market to grow 20% per year through 2010, propelled largely by rapidly increasing demand for the use of hydrogen to create lower-sulfur fuels, and to handle the heavier, high-sulfur crudes—including oil sands syncrude—flowing into refineries.
Two recent announcements this past week highlight the growth market for hydrogen in the refining industry.
First, Hydrogenics announced that is was awarded a contract, valued at approximately $3.3 million, to supply a HySTAT-A electrolyzer to a major North American oil and gas refinery for installation in 2007.
The HySTAT-A can generate up to 3 Nm3/h (114 scfh) of hydrogen at up to 99.9995% purity at 363 psi (25 bar). The high-purity hydrogen generated by the HySTAT-A Hydrogen Plant will be used by the refinery to reduce the sulfur content in diesel fuel in compliance with EPA regulations.
Second, ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company (EMRE) and QuestAir Technologies agreed to jointly market a novel, large-capacity hydrogen purifier as a compact solution for hydrogen recovery in the oil refining industry.
QuestAir has been working with EMRE since 2003 to develop this advanced, rapid cycle pressure swing adsorption (RCPSA) system, marketed as the H-6200, for use in oil refineries and petrochemical plants. A prototype plant test is planned at an ExxonMobil refinery beginning the second half of 2006.
The multi-year agreement signed today covers the marketing of the H-6200 hydrogen RCPSA to third-party customers in the oil refining industry. Under the terms of the agreement, EMRE will lead the marketing effort to refinery customers. QuestAir will support EMRE’s marketing efforts, and will be the contracting party responsible for manufacturing, supplying and commissioning of plants sold to refinery customers.
RCPSA operates at significantly higher cycle speeds than conventional PSA systems. This results in a direct reduction in the size and cost of the equipment required to purify a given volume of product gas. The H-6200 will be marketed in the oil refining industry as a compact solution for hydrogen recovery, helping refineries address the growing demand for hydrogen to process increased supplies of heavy, sour crude oil.
The Kuwait National Petroleum Company (KNPC) is building the world’s largest on-purpose hydrogen production capacity at a single location—a 600,000Nm3/h capacity at the New Refinery Project in Kuwait. KNPC will use the hydrogen for product upgrading and production of low sulfur fuels.
Hydrogen in Refining. Hydrogen is used to remove sulfur compounds (along with some conversion to lighter products in a process called hydrodesulfurization. The oil is combined with hydrogen, vaporized and then passed over a catalyst. Sulfur in the oil converts to hydrogen sulfide, which is then removed by absorption in a solution. The solution can then be heated to removed the sulfide and reused.
Hydrogen is also used in a process called hydrocracking to crack carbon-carbon bonds and reduce the molecular weight of the oil for processing as a lighter fuel. The hydrotreatment process can also remove nitrogen, oxygen and metal atoms.
The amount of hydrogen consumed is a function of a number of variables, including the chemical composition of the feedstock, the desired end-product, the type of catalyst and the process. Typically, the more severe the treatment required (i.e., the heavier and sourer the crude, and the lighter the desired result), the more hydrogen is required.
Given that the composition of the oil is controlled by geology and the quality of the end-product by regulation and market demand, there is a great deal of industry research attention on the type of catalyst and the process in an attempt to increase the efficiency of the various hydrotreating systems.
As a supply counterpoint this week, Canadian oil company Suncor announced that it had increased its quarterly net earnings by more than a factor of 10—from C$67 million to C$713 million—on an increase in oil sands production from 139,900 barrels per day in the first quarter of 2005 to 264,400 barrels per day in the first quarter of 2006. Suncor’s next major growth phase targets an increase in oil sands production capacity to 350,000 bpd in 2008.