BP Doubles Down on Hydrogen


As expected the oil industry seems to be keeping a close eye on hydrogen.

A typical oil refinery uses hydrogen in its processing. Hydrocracking is one way they break down large molecules to fuel ranges. Also some streams like ink oils can contain cancer causing PNA’s. Hydrogenation reduces their toxicity.

Refineries usually get their hydrogen from a unit that makes it from natural gas. Often that unit is built by companies like Air Products. Air Products is well known for building for a baseload customer and then building extra capacity to sell to area customers.

Whiting is AMOCOs largest refinery in Indiana just south of Chicago. They discuss gray, blue and green hydrogen. The gray hydrogen probably means by-product carbon dioxide goes in the air. But they probably have to capture it to get clean hydrogen. Easy enough to sell it as for carbonated beverages or dry ice. They talk of using it for enhanced oil recovery. There are some oil wells in Indiana, but I would bet most of their oil arrives by pipeline. So this will take long pipelines for oil recovery.

Maybe they are expanding hydrogen production for the new business. But mostly this looks like a public relations item. They may be doing some green hydrogen, but its probably tiny compared to their oil business.

The message is they are watching hydrogen closely and looking for an entry point (as expected).


Alstrom doing hydrogen fueled locomotives in Europe


Not ready for freight locomotives yet but suitable for light, short range passenger locomotives. In the US most of those are already electrified but its a possible market some places.

Linde to supply the hydrogen in a distribution network. Some by electrolysis but most as a byproduct from chemical plants. Hydrogen is a co-product when you make chlorine (and caustic soda) by electrolysis of salt water. Most chlorine goes to make vinyl chloride monomer for vinyl plastic. Leuna in Germany said to be source.

This is all about energy and right now thats a problem in Germany and much of Europe. They had planned to rely on Russian natural gas while they build green energy capacity and shut down coal and nuclear. But where is that power coming from these days? Imported LNG? Sounds costly.

They are doing some green electrolysis for hydrogen. They say: The proton exchange membrane (PEM) based electrolyser will have a capacity of around 10,000 kg a day, says Linde.

You wonder if proton exchange membrane electrolysis is state of the art. Who makes it. To be investigated.

Linde plans a “hydrogen hub.” Perhaps that is what BP has in mind too. And we hear of Air Products building same in Arizona to supply the California market.

Suddenly hydrogen is getting some investment. Perhaps its prospects are improving. I saw a recent list showing both Linde and Air Products stocks in an uptrend. I guessed a likely response to the Inflation Recovery Act passed by Congress. True growth potential or a flash in the pan?

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The problem here is the BP is betting blue hydrogen, which is hydrogen made from methane with carbon capture.

That will never work. You must first generate the methane, then reform it to hydrogen (which requires an energy input), then capture the carbon dioxide (which requires another energy input).

The first energy input pretty much guarantees it will never be economically viable, and the second one seals the deal.

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The use of the term “generate” is curious. Natural gas is mostly methane. You drill a long hole in the ground, in the proper geographical location, then natural gas comes out. Its not exactly “generated”. Sure, there is some processing of the gas that needs to be done to remove undesirables, and there are some other hydrocarbons along with methane in the gas. But still, producing hydrogen from natural gas is the most common method, which means it is the least expensive. The downside is hydrogen from natural gas produces CO2.

Yes, carbon capture and sequestration is very expensive, and is almost never cost effective, unless it is used to enhance the recovery of even more fossil fuels from the ground.

  • Pete

Sounds kind of like a “fossil fuel”, no? Isn’t that the thing we are trying move away from with alternative energy sources???

Yes, natural gas is a fossil fuel. Cleaner than coal but still produces CO2. Electrolysis of water is a green source of hydrogen but only if you have green electricity to run it.

Apologies. I assumed everyone already knew that.

BP isn’t! They are a fossil fuel company. They want to keep their core business as long as possible.

With respect to the last sentence, are you saying that hydrogen will never be an economically viable energy source? Steam reforming of natural gas is the main method hydrogen is currently produced. Wikipedia says 95% of the hydrogen produced today comes from that method or some other fossil fuel. If there was something cheaper, I would think the chemical companies would already be using it. Hydrogen is an industrial gas, with several different applications. I know the main electrical generators in large power plants are often cooled with hydrogen. That is just one example.

So, if steam reforming of natural gas is not economically viable, I don’t see anything else competing at the current time. Perhaps the right question is: Not economically viable compared to what?

  • Pete

Blue hydrogen as described in the OP will never be an economically viable fuel source compared to any alternative, ever.

In another thread @mschmit laid out the energy balance of a hydrogen vehicle compared to an EV. Turns out, a hydrogen vehicle requires far more energy than an EV–like multiple times more. Adding the blue component increases the energy requirements even more than that.

Now, let’s think about transportation uses where EVs aren’t really practical, like long distance trucking. Tesla’s new semi is on the cusp of being practical for widespread use, with 500 mile range and 30 minutes charging time, but needs probably about 200 more miles range and vastly more charging stations. But electricity is available everywhere and the range seems like a a technically achievable problem. If we spot blue hydrogen the headwind that there are basically no hydrogen fueling stations and those are a lot harder and more expensive to build than chargers, then you still have the fuel cost problem. Google tells me about 5-15% of the cost of freight transportation is fuel. Using hydrogen over EV semis would at least double, more likely triple that cost. That makes it way too expensive.

What about stationary sources like a power plant? Same type of problem. You take methane, reform it to hydrogen which requires an energy input, capture the carbon which requires an energy input, and burn the hydrogen to make electricity. But if you have effective carbon capture technology, you could simply just burn the methane and capture the carbon, saving one energy input. So that doesn’t make economic sense either. A non-starter, really.

Green hydrogen on the other hand has lots of promise. A major problem with wind and solar is their intermittent nature. If you want a fully, or even mostly fully renewable grid, you need a huge excess capacity of wind and solar to make up for the days of the year when those sources aren’t producing. Currently, that excess capacity is curtailed, which is a fancy way of saying wasted and will only become more wasted in the future. If you could store that wasted energy by say, making hydrogen by means of electrolysis, you are getting essentially free energy because your cost input is zero. And if you have dispatchable green energy you need a whole lot less wind and solar, so the cost of the whole system comes way down.


I wonder if this is a problem that can be solved by market economics rather than by technology? Perhaps at the peak wastage time they could charge a penny or two per kWh and people would be encouraged to charge their cars at that time? In 10-15 years, there may be 40 or 50 million EVs each with about 70 kWh in them. I think that comes to 3.5 TWh in total if I’m calculating correctly. If charging is cheap enough once or twice a week, people will make sure they mostly charge at those times, either at home or at work or elsewhere.

Now combine some technology and market economics and it surely can be solved. Smart charging cars and smart grid combined can easily do it.

Off the shelf EV chargers already support basically what you are talking about. Most utilities don’t support that type of pricing but could. So that’s effectively a done deal.

The real problem is everything else. In most places, peak electrical demand occurs in the evening when everyone comes home from work, runs the air conditioner, and fires up Netflix at the same time when the sun is going down. If you have a renewable grid big enough to support that peak, most of the time there will be lots of curtailment. There is no way around it.

That’s why dispatchable green energy is so important. A little dispatchable green energy saves multiple redundant equivalents in wind and solar. And that’s also why traditional nuclear is a bad lane to be in. There will be plenty of baseload in the future. That’s not what is needed.

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Getting free energy is one way to look at it

Another way to look at it is that you have a large amount of capital equipment that is sitting idle for long periods of time…wasting money. Consider a traditional power plant. Instead of building one and running it 24/7 with some down days for maintenance you build two power plants and run one on even days and the other on odd days and claim the extra cost if OK because all maintenance happens on the off days.


But isn’t that exactly what we have now? Because electricity production needs to change with demand in real time, we have peaker plants that can be ramped up and down easily and quickly. For large parts of the day, they sit idle, wasting money.

We have that as well. Not two plants with each running every other day. Closer to 20 plants with one down for maintenance at any given time. Because maintenance needs to happen AND the grid needs to be powered 24/7.



Wall Street Journal today has article announcing that Air Products has jv to build large green hydrogen plant in north Texas. Will use solar and wind for energy. New tax credits under the Inflation Reduction Act make green hydrogen almost competitive with blue hydrogen. And increased sales of electrolyzer equipment make them less costly. Air Products is the largest hydrogen producer. They plan to convert all plants to green by 2035.

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Every grid needs excess capacity. But unlike most traditional sources, excess renewables produce energy whether you need it or not. Everything you produce beyond what you need is wasted.

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More hydrogen. Europe plans hydrogen pipeline to bring green hydrogen from Spain to Marsailles in France. Undersea pipeline.


Makes you think Europe is serious about the future of hydrogen. And hydrogen could be considered as a synthetic replacement for natural gas.

They hope for partial funding by EU and completion by 2030.

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Interesting. I didn’t think hydrogen was viable to ship via pipeline. Thought I had read that somewhere. Obviously not?

Someone in this very forum had talked about hydrogen as a form of “battery” for other energy sources, like solar and wind, that are intermittent. Over-supply the solar and create hydrogen with the excess during the day, use the hydrogen at night in the fuel cell or to create steam for a turbine, for example. That was a very interesting idea.

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If I understand it correctly, hydrogen can be shipped via pipelines, but they have to be a special type of pipe, otherwise hydrogen causes brittleness.

You are right that we need standby peakers 24/7. However, it is a matter of scale and costs.
There are ~80 peaker plants in CA. A large portion of peaker plants are old, aging steam plants or NG plants totalling ~17 GW. CA has 1500 power plants with a capacity of 80GW (including the peakers).
Many of those 1500 plants are small so the number isn’t that important. The peaker plants are about 20% of the total capacity.
Many peaker plants are near EOL and good candidates to be scrapped and replaced with storage (i.e. batteries). So they don’t consist of large capital expenses just sitting idle like new equipment would be.

Here is a good summary of peaker plants in CA: