Autothermal reforming process gains popularity for blue hydrogen production

Isbel Lázaro.
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Inspenet, August 26, 2023.

The production of blue hydrogen from hydrocarbons and the capture or use of CO 2 is considered a transitory step towards the large-scale production of green hydrogen through the use of renewable energy sources. Calculations indicate that by the year 2030, world production of blue hydrogen will reach 22 million tons per year (Mtpa), representing 46% of the total production of hydrogen with low carbon emissions.

During the hydrogen production process, there are four main options for CO 2 capture: steam methane reforming (SMR) , coal gasification , autothermal reforming (ATR) and partial oxidation (POX) .

Currently, approximately 84% of the world’s hydrogen production is carried out using the SMR process , while the remainder is carried out through coal gasification. However, the ATR process is gaining popularity due to its outstanding potential for CO 2 capture and higher energy efficiency .

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According to Rystad Energy’s projections, the majority of new CCS hydrogen production projects this decade are expected to opt for the ATR process. It is anticipated that by 2030, ATR will account for 37% of the market share, compared to the current absence. In terms of regions and projects under development, said is expected to be most popular in the United States and Europe, as these regions have set net-zero emissions targets backed by policy and financial support.

More details about autothermal reforming

The ATR process merges hydrogen production and heating into a single reactor, generating a single concentrated stream of carbon dioxide. Compared to the SMR method, this lowers the cost associated with CO 2 capture and amplifies the potential capture capacity to 90% or more. The overall energy efficiency of the ATR is also superior, since the energy required in the form of heat comes mostly from the exothermic reaction.

In addition, the ATR features faster start-up and response times for transient situations. Pure oxygen is introduced into the process for combustion, thus generating a highly concentrated, high-pressure carbon dioxide stream, which favors the incorporation of the carbon capture process.

Most ATR projects aim for a 95% CO 2 capture rate, such as the proposed H2H Saltend project in the UK and the Air Products Hydrogen Energy Complex project in Canada.

The ATR process is expected to be the predominant choice for most new carbon capture and storage (CCS) hydrogen production plants.

By 2030, ATR’s market share is anticipated to increase to 37% and contribute approximately 8.2 million tons to annual blue hydrogen production. Furthermore, all new projects based on the ATR will be greenfield projects.

Leading global providers of ATR technology include companies such as Topsoe, Johnson Matthey and Air Liquide. Due to more stringent regulations and ambitious goals to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, Europe and North America together account for 53% of the CCS-based SMR market.

By 2030, these two regions will comprise 100% of the ATR market, driven by operational production forecasts and supported by strong decarbonisation, policy and financing objectives.

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