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The application of green hydrogen in hydrogenation

Ceram Hyd, 5 Avenue des Renardières, F77250, Ecuelles (Fontainebleau), France


Hydrogen is a well-understood raw material in the field of surfactants. The entire natural fatty alcohol and derivatives are manufactured by the hydrogenation of methyl esters. Additionally, large hydrogenation applications are found around the manufacturing of fatty amines from fatty nitriles and sorbitol from glucose or hydrogenated castor oil.
The origin of the hydrogen for all these surfactants & intermediates is today almost exclusively of fossil fuel origin. For manufacturers who wish to produce a greener product or one that is more natural or of renewable origin, current sources of hydrogen constitute a limitation. It is not altogether surprising that there is very little market communication around hydrogenation.
Hydrogen is produced via 3 sources:

  • Fossil fuels, mainly via Natural Gas reforming (95%)
  • By-product of chlorination production by electrolysis of salt (NaCl)
  • Water electrolysis (< 2%) via electrolysers 

The vast majority of large chemical plants receive hydrogen either delivered in storage tanks or via existing pipelines in heavily industrialized areas. Where there is an absence of pipeline infrastructure, some manufacturers use hydrogen electrolysers to generate hydrogen. This is principally the case in Scandinavian & Asian countries. In virtually all of these instances, the generation of the electricity is of fossil fuel origin.

Recent surges in fossil fuel pricing combined with Governments pursuing renewable energies as part of their energy mix has given rise towards interest in widening the application of hydrogen as a means of storing or otherwise employing surplus electricity. Much of this electricity is generated through solar, wind or biomass energy projects. This “green hydrogen” is generated in the following three ways:

  • Produce hydrogen at large scale from renewable energy sources via water electrolysis
  • Substitution of natural gas through biogas in reformer units (SMR)
  • Generation of hydrogen from microbial processes

The hydrogen production by microorganism & algae remains at the experimental stage while the quantities of biogas required for a medium to large scale (250 – 3500 Nm3/h) hydrogenation plant in the natural oils & surfactants field would necessitate the transport of vast quantities of biogas from several large farms. Accordingly, at the present time, this source of hydrogen would be limited.
The production of hydrogen via water electrolys ...