FUREC project: converting municipal waste into green hydrogen

German multinational energy company RWE is building two new plants in the Maastricht-Roermond region in the Netherlands, to produce 54 000 tons of green hydrogen yearly out of 700 000 tons of municipal solid waste that otherwise would have to be incinerated.

Hydrogen from non-recyclable solid waste streams saves around 3,6 million tons of CO2 in ten years. The low-cost green hydrogen produced will be used merely by the chemical industry in the nearby Chemelot business park, reducing its natural gas consumption by more than 280 million cubic meters per year.

Two factories to be built

The waste-to-hydrogen project FUREC, which stands for ‘Fuse Reuse Recycle’, got a €108 million grant from the EU Innovation Fund last week. In total, the project will require an investment of more than €600 million to complete.

A first factory will be built in the Zevenelle industrial park in Haelen, just above Roermond, to convert non-recyclable municipal solid waste (MSW) into pellets that can be used as a so-called Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF).

Waste of two million people

Household waste contains, on average, 50% of waste from biogenic origin (e.g. textiles, paper). The 700 000 tons to be treated this way is equivalent to the amount of MSW produced by approximately two million people each year, says RWE.

In a second plant to be built in the midst of the 800 hectares of Chemelot industrial park between Stein and Geleen, the pellets will be used to produce hydrogen in a thermal gasification process. The CO2 released is to be captured, stored, and reused in chemical processes at industrial clients.

This plant is expected to produce 54 000 tons of hydrogen per year, equivalent to the output of a 700-megawatt offshore wind farm with a coupled electrolyzer, says RWE. It will be sold and used by the chemical industries in Chemelot or transported to other chemical clusters around Rotterdam or the German Ruhr area.

Expensive green hydrogen

Making ‘green’ hydrogen by electrolysis – splitting water (H20) into hydrogen (H2) and oxygen (O) – by using electricity from renewable sources like windmills is today’s most commonly used method. But it is considered expensive, as 30% of the energy is lost in the process.

This still makes green hydrogen three to five times more expensive than ‘grey hydrogen’, produced from natural gas, which provides up to 95% of the hydrogen used by the chemical industry today. It’s called ‘grey’ hydrogen because, in that process, CO2 is released into the atmosphere, adding to the warming of the earth.

Win-win situation

When the CO2 is captured and stored, we’re talking about ‘blue hydrogen’, but CO2 capturing makes it more expensive than its ‘grey’ equivalent. In the FUREC waste-to-hydrogen project capturing and storing of CO2 is needed too. But as the incinerated waste produces massive CO2 too today, it’s considered a win-win situation.

With municipal solid waste being available in abundance and municipalities (and citizens) having to pay to have it removed and processed anyway, the ‘blue’ hydrogen produced by FUREC and other initiatives is expected to become competitive with grey hydrogen while having a substantial environmental benefit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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