Total signs cleantech deal to produce hydrogen at refineries

French energy giant Total has signed a cooperation agreement with the Sunfire cleantech company to integrate capture waste heat and CO2 at a German refinery to create synthetic methanol and hydrogen to be used to reduce energy and transport emissions.

Total will be able to reduce the overall cost of the integration process. Image: Total

Total will be able to reduce the overall cost of the integration process. Image: Total

Total and Sunfire have signed the agreement for the cleantech firm to provide a megawatt-scale high-temperature electrolyser to be used at Total’s Raffinerie Mitteldeutschland near Leipzig, Germany.

Sunfire’s electrolyser enables the production of hydrogen and is powered by renewable electricity. The version being trialled by Total can also convert waste gases and heat and the plant into a clean raw material that can replace crude oil or natural gas to be used in the energy and transport sectors.

“Total is delighted to develop efficient technologies to re-use CO2 to chemicals, materials and fuels. Carbon capture, utilisation and storage is going to play an essential role in achieving carbon neutrality without curbing economic and social growth,” said Marie-Noelle Semeria, senior vice president and group chief technology officer at Total.

The technology will use waste heat and steam from industrial processes to reduce the need for renewable energy and electricity at the refinery. Improved efficiency, also means that Total will be able to reduce the overall cost of the integration process.

The technology will be installed at the refinery next year and production is scheduled for 2021. Total is aiming to generate 500 tonnes of green methanol in the first three years, according to Reuters.

"The use of our high-temperature electrolyser at one of the largest oil companies in the world confirms our years of hard work driving decarbonisation in large-scale industries,” Sunfire’s managing director, Nils Aldag, said.

“This technology can become the core building block for energy sectors that cannot source electricity directly from renewables. With the transformation into renewable gases and fuels and the use of existing infrastructures, we can make the transport sector and the chemical industry climate-neutral.”

How is Total approaching the low-carbon transition?

edie has explored the differing levels of ambitions of major oil companies and whether they are spurring or hindering the low-carbon transition. Here’s Total’s approach. Read the full round-up here.

Total is aiming for “green” natural gas to make up at least 60% of its hydrocarbon portfolio by 2035 and to have renewable power account for one-fifth of its portfolio by 2046. It is also hoping to decrease flaring by 80% by 2020, against a 2010 baseline, with the elimination of flaring set to be completed in 2030.

Action so far: Total reduced its overall carbon footprint by 30% and claims this will set it up to align with a 2C trajectory in the near future. It ceased coal operations in 2016 and recorded an 87% decrease in flaring and a 14% improvement in energy efficiency between 2010 and 2017. To date, it has installed 7GW of solar capacity globally.

Low-carbon investments: To date, Total has invested around $160m in 20 cleantech startups across its core markets, including businesses in the lithium-ion battery, microbial fuel and sugar energy recovery spheres, and in 2016, it acquired French battery firm Saft for $1bn. As for renewable energy, the firm is part of several clean energy partnerships, including with Abu Dhabi’s Shams1 solar thermal plant, US-based renewables firm Sunpower and Belgian company EREN Renewable Energy.

Total is also investing heavily in energy storage, and earmarks 10% of its annual R&D spending for lithium-ion battery schemes.

Policy lobbying: Total is estimated to spend around $52m on climate-related campaigns every year, but has also been accused of spending more than $25m annually on delaying, controlling or blocking policies to tackle climate change.

Less recently, the firm played a key role in in the launch of Paying for Carbon, a call to governments to introduce a carbon pricing mechanism. It is additionally a member of The World Bank’s Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition and the UN Global Compact’s Business Leadership Criteria on Carbon Pricing initiative.

Matt Mace



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