A Shell-China venture will put green hydrogen under the limelight as it starts a unit that will power vehicles during the Winter Olympics next month.
It’s not a cheap marketing move from a petroleum producer (for those looking at pristine snowy slopes and rolling their eyes). It’s a smart, perhaps even necessary, marketing move for the development of a new fuel.
Promoting the clean-burning fuel at such high-visibility events can do much to support future development. This is because the effort to scale up the fuel’s use will depend on public demand, as well as government support that would enable hydrogen to compete on price with traditional fuels.
Shell China and Zhangjiakou City Transport Construction Investment Holding Group Co. Ltd. announced the start of operations of a power-to-hydrogen 20 megawatt (MW) electrolyser in a statement today.
Powered by onshore wind generation, the project will initially supply green hydrogen to fuel a fleet of more than 600 fuel cell vehicles at the Zhangjiakou competition zone during the Winter Games. After that, the fuel will be used for public and commercial transport in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, helping to decarbonise its mobility sector.
The power-to-hydrogen electrolyser and hydrogen refuelling stations in Zhangjiakou are phase 1 of the joint venture, according to Shell. The companies have plans to scale up to 60 MW in the next two years as part of phase 2.
This is Shell’s first commercial hydrogen development project in China.
Green hydrogen is emerging as a solution to provide reliable fuel to hard-to-decarbonise sectors of the economy. These include heavy duty and long haul transport, among others. Electricity from wind power separates hydrogen from water, for instance, by manufacturing an energy carrier that resembles a traditional fuel.
“The electrolyser is the largest in our portfolio to date and is in line with Shell’s Powering Progress strategy, which includes plans to build on our leading position in hydrogen,” said Wael Sawan, Shell’s Integrated Gas, Renewable and Energy Solutions Director. “We see opportunities across the hydrogen supply chain in China, including its production, storage and shipping. We want to be the trusted partner for our customers from different sectors as we help them decarbonise in China.”
The green fuel’s problem is cost, making it expensive and essentially uncompetitive currently when energy consumers choose their fuel. Major oil and gas companies, as well as utilities and developers, are initiating projects in expectation that scale and technology will eventually make the clean fuel more competitive.