World’s Largest Renewable Hydrogen Plant (Part 2)

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Recently Steve Hanley wrote an article about the Lancaster, CA renewable hydrogen production plant project, which covered a lot of ground, but in order to provide some more details, SGH2 CEO Dr. Robert Do answered some questions about it for CleanTechnica.

Image credit: SGH2

How will the new facility reduce the production of 40,000 tons of waste each year?

We use recycled waste paper to produce hydrogen. We don’t reduce the production of that waste – rather, we take that waste material which is biogenic hydrocarbons and use it as a feedstocks for our gasification process generating a hydrogen-rich synthetic gas which is further purified into 3800 tons of 99.9999% pure Hydrogen per year. This waste, when landfilled, typically would decompose into methane, a greenhouse gas that is approximately 30 times more potent than CO2.

What kind of waste will be used?

Our technology can process all solid waste materials – without any major presorting or processing. However, to ensure stable operational functioning of the plant and the production of green hydrogen, we will use a stable source of materials with biogenic hydrocarbons.

For our Lancaster project, we will use recycled mixed paper waste. This material will already have been sorted at the source — that is, put in recycling bins in homes and businesses —  and then taken to a material recovery facility, where it will have been further sorted, shredded, and baled. This is the standard process for recycled materials. Those bales used to be shipped to China, but in 2018, China banned the import of recycled waste materials. As a result, countless bales of recycled material across the country —  and the world —  have nowhere to go, and are being stored or dumped back into landfills, undermining recycling efforts.

In Lancaster, the city will deliver these baled materials to our facility. We will not charge the city for disposing of these materials. The Lancaster plant will process 40,000 tons of waste annually, saving the city between $50 to $75 per ton annually in landfilling and landfill space costs.

What is plasma-enhanced gasification technology and how does it work?

This IS rocket science.  Our technology was invented by NASA scientist Dr. Salvador Camacho, “the father of plasma technology,” and Dr. Robert T. Do, a biophysicist, a physician, and an entrepreneur. Dr. Camacho developed the high-temperature plasma torch to test heat shields at NASA. Without his invention, there would have been no way to guarantee the safe re-entry of NASA astronauts into Earth’s atmosphere.

Dr. Do and Dr. Camacho originally created Solena Group to use their proprietary Plasma Pyrolysis Vitrification (PPV) technology for the treatment and safe disposal of hazardous waste. This technology was subsequently improved and optimized by Dr. Do and Dr. Sylvain Motycka, SGH2 Chief Technology Officer, into SGH2’s Solena Plasma Enhanced Gasification (SPEG) process to produce green hydrogen from waste feedstocks.

Over three decades, we have developed a unique, energy-efficient patented gasification technology that operates at very high-temperature (3,500-4,000 C) created by oxygen enriched gas enhanced by plasma torches, which we optimize to produce hydrogen. The high temperature causes the complete molecular dissociation of all hydrocarbons. The molecules bound into a quality hydrogen-rich biosyngas free of tar, soot, and heavy metal. The syngas then goes through a Pressure Swing Absorber (PSA) system resulting in hydrogen at 99.9999% purity as required for use in Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cell vehicles. Our process extracts all carbon from the waste feedstock, removes all particulates and acid gases, and produces no toxins or pollution. The end result is high purity hydrogen and a small amount of biogenic carbon dioxide, which is not additive to greenhouse gas emissions.

Please see this link for a full explanation and video:

Does the gasification technology produce any emissions?

We are totally green — with only biogenic carbon, and thus carbon neutral. In fact our process is greener than green because our hydrogen has a negative carbon intensity (CI): -188 kg CO2eq/kg of H2). Our hydrogen earns more CO2 credits / Low Carbon Fuel Standard credits than hydrogen produced from the electrolysis of water by 100% renewable power. The Lancaster plant is carbon neutral, and is clean and free of toxic emissions, as well.

There are two types of pollution: greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming, and standard emissions that cause air pollution. We don’t produce either. In fact, our process is a gasification system where all the synthetic gas is captured in a closed loop system to produce the H2, and according to the EPA, is distinct and separate from incinerators where the waste is burnt and all the toxic emissions are released into the atmosphere as flue gas.

Our production process actually removes greenhouse gas emissions from the Earth. Because the feedstocks we use to produce hydrogen come from a biogenic source (e.g. recycled mixed paper), our hydrogen has a negative carbon intensity of -188 kgCO2eq/kg of H2 (explained below). We are greener than green!

We are classified as a net-zero-carbon plant.

We are cleaner than clean! Because our plant is a closed-loop gasification plant that converts waste feedstocks into reusable gas that is collected, there are no emissions of pollution.  We produce no carcinogens (semi-volatile organic compounds like flue gas, fly ash, toxic bottom ash, dioxins or furans) and no sulfur dioxides as do incinerators.

Can you share the approximate cost of the new hydrogen production plant?

The estimated total capital cost is $55 million.

How long will it take to construct the plant and how many jobs will be created during construction?

The plant will employ 600 people during construction and 35 people to operate it, many of whom will come from the low-income neighborhood surrounding the plant.

The timeline is as follows. We are in the pre-feed stage now, anticipate construction to start Q1 2021, and the plant to open Q1 2023:

  • Pre-feed and feed phase (including permitting): 12 months.
  • Engineering procurement construction: 18 months.
  • Start up & commissioning: 3 months.
  • Anticipated operation start: Q1 2023.

What will the hydrogen it generates be used for?

The Lancaster plant will produce hydrogen for the transportation sector. California has an existing and growing hydrogen infrastructure, with increasing hydrogen demand. We are in negotiations with the largest owners and operators of hydrogen refueling stations in California.

But the potential for hydrogen is huge, with a wide range of possible customers.  We are exploring additional plants and future sales to utilities (including SoCalGas, a California natural gas company) that would replace natural gas with hydrogen; cement plants (including Heiderberg), and others.  In addition, various transit agencies in the Los Angeles area have announced they will purchase up to 1000 new hydrogen buses for a 100% zero-emissions fleet, and San Bernardino just announced the commission of its first hydrogen train.

Is this type of hydrogen production cost competitive with fossil fuels because the waste used in the plant is free?

Our green hydrogen is on cost parity with the fossil fuel-based grey hydrogen. Indeed, we are not charging a tipping fee/disposal fee for the waste feedstocks, thus saving the City of Lancaster waste disposal costs. With a zero cost feedstock, our cost of protection is competitive with grey hydrogen which is produced from the steam reformation of natural gas.

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Jake Richardson

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