How Hybrid Fuel Systems Can Improve the Thermal Processes in the Chemical Industry

Improve the Thermal Processes in the Chemical Industry

The chemical industry relies heavily on thermal processes, such as combustion, gasification, pyrolysis, and reforming, to produce a wide range of products and materials. These processes require a large amount of energy and generate significant greenhouse gas emissions. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the chemical industry accounted for about 10% of global final energy demand and 7% of global CO2 emissions in 2018.

How can the chemical industry reduce its energy consumption and environmental impact while maintaining its productivity and competitiveness? One possible solution is to adopt hybrid fuel systems, which combine renewable energy sources and alternative carbon feeds with conventional fossil fuels. Hybrid fuel systems can improve the energy efficiency and environmental performance of thermal processes by reducing the dependence on fossil fuels, increasing the utilization of renewable energy, and lowering the carbon intensity of the products.

In this blog post, we will explore what hybrid fuel systems are and how they work, what are the benefits of hybrid fuel systems for the chemical industry, what are the challenges and opportunities of hybrid fuel systems for the chemical industry, and how to implement hybrid fuel systems in the chemical industry. We hope this blog post will help you understand the potential impact of hybrid fuel systems on the thermal processes in the chemical industry and inspire you to take action towards a more sustainable future.

Key Takeaways

  • Hybrid fuel systems are systems that use a combination of renewable energy sources and alternative carbon feeds with conventional fossil fuels to power thermal processes in the chemical industry.
  • Hybrid fuel systems can offer several benefits for the chemical industry, such as reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, enhancing flexibility and reliability of thermal processes, and creating new opportunities for product diversification and innovation.
  • Hybrid fuel systems also face some challenges for the chemical industry, such as the high investments required, the need to maintain operational continuity, and the long investment cycles and planning periods required.
  • Hybrid fuel systems require careful planning, design, and operation to ensure their technical and economic feasibility and compatibility with existing or planned infrastructure.
  • The UK has a strong potential to be a global leader in hybrid fuel systems, infrastructure, and technical know-how, as well as a history of collaboration between government, industry, and innovators.

What are hybrid fuel systems and how do they work?

Hybrid fuel systems are systems that use a combination of renewable energy sources and alternative carbon feeds with conventional fossil fuels to power thermal processes in the chemical industry. Thermal processes are chemical reactions that involve high temperatures, such as combustion, gasification, pyrolysis, and reforming. These processes are used to produce a variety of products and materials, such as fuels, chemicals, plastics, and metals.

Hybrid fuel systems work by integrating different components, such as solar collectors, wind turbines, biomass gasifiers, electrolysers, fuel cells, and reactors. These components can provide heat, electricity, hydrogen, syngas, or other fuels to the thermal processes. Depending on the availability and cost of the energy sources and carbon feeds, hybrid fuel systems can switch between different modes of operation to optimize the energy efficiency and environmental performance of the processes.

For example, a hybrid fuel system for the steam methane reforming (SMR) process could use solar thermal energy to provide heat for the endothermic reaction of methane and water to produce hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Alternatively, it could use wind electricity to power an electrolyser that splits water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen produced by either mode could be used as a fuel or a feedstock for other processes. The carbon monoxide could be combined with hydrogen to form syngas, which is a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide that can be used to synthesize various chemicals.

By using hybrid fuel systems, the chemical industry can reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, increase its utilization of renewable energy sources, and lower its carbon intensity of the products. Hybrid fuel systems can also improve the flexibility and reliability of the thermal processes by providing multiple options for energy supply and demand management.

What are the benefits of hybrid fuel systems for the chemical industry?

Hybrid fuel systems can offer several benefits for the chemical industry, such as:

  • Reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Hybrid fuel systems can lower the demand for fossil fuels and increase the use of renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind, or biomass. This can improve the energy efficiency and environmental performance of thermal processes, which are responsible for a large share of the energy consumption and CO2 emissions in the chemical industry. For example, a hybrid fuel system for a steam methane reforming (SMR) process could reduce the CO2 emissions by 40% compared to a conventional SMR process.
  • Enhancing flexibility and reliability of thermal processes. Hybrid fuel systems can provide multiple options for energy supply and demand management, depending on the availability and cost of the energy sources and carbon feeds. This can improve the operational stability and resilience of thermal processes, which are often affected by fluctuations in energy prices and supply. For example, a hybrid fuel system for a gasification process could switch between different modes of operation to optimize the syngas composition and quality.
  • Creating new opportunities for product diversification and innovation. Hybrid fuel systems can enable the production of novel fuels and chemicals from alternative carbon feeds, such as biomass, waste, or CO2. This can create new markets and value chains for the chemical industry, as well as foster innovation and competitiveness. For example, a hybrid fuel system for a Fischer-Tropsch (FT) process could produce synthetic fuels and chemicals from biomass-derived syngas.

What are the challenges and opportunities of hybrid fuel systems for the chemical industry?

Hybrid fuel systems are not without challenges for the chemical industry. Some of the main barriers are:

  • The high investments required to switch to low-carbon hydrogen production. Hybrid fuel systems often require new or upgraded infrastructure, such as electrolyzers, gasifiers, pipelines, compressors, and storage tanks. These can entail significant capital costs and long payback periods, especially in the absence of supportive policies or incentives.
  • The need to maintain operational continuity in chemical and steel production. Hybrid fuel systems may introduce technical and operational issues, such as compatibility, safety, reliability, and efficiency of the processes and equipment. These may require careful design, testing, and monitoring to ensure optimal performance and minimal disruption.
  • The long investment cycles and planning periods required. Hybrid fuel systems involve complex and interrelated decisions, such as the choice of energy sources and carbon feeds, the location and scale of production and consumption, and the integration with existing or planned infrastructure. These may require long-term planning and coordination among multiple stakeholders, such as energy producers, chemical manufacturers, regulators, and consumers.

However, hybrid fuel systems also offer significant opportunities for the chemical industry. Some of the main advantages are:

  • The potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve environmental sustainability. Hybrid fuel systems can lower the carbon footprint of thermal processes by using renewable energy sources and alternative carbon feeds, such as biomass, waste, or CO2. This can help the chemical industry meet its climate goals and comply with environmental regulations.
  • The possibility to create new markets and value chains for low-carbon products and services. Hybrid fuel systems can enable the production of novel fuels and chemicals that have lower emissions or higher value than conventional ones. This can create new demand and revenue streams for the chemical industry, as well as enhance its innovation and competitiveness.
  • The opportunity to leverage the UK’s strengths and capabilities in hydrogen technology development. The UK has a strong history of collaboration between government, industry, and innovators to tackle climate change and grow its economy. The UK also has a rich infrastructure, and technical know-how that make it ideally positioned to be a global leader in hydrogen. By investing in hybrid fuel systems, the UK can capitalize on its national strengths and create high quality jobs across the country.

How to implement hybrid fuel systems in the chemical industry?

Hybrid fuel systems require careful planning, design, and operation to ensure their technical and economic feasibility and compatibility with existing or planned infrastructure. Some of the key steps to implement hybrid fuel systems in the chemical industry are:

  • Conduct a feasibility study and a techno-economic analysis. This involves assessing the availability and cost of the energy sources and carbon feeds, the potential energy savings and emission reductions, the technical and operational challenges and risks, and the expected return on investment and payback period of the hybrid fuel system.
  • Select the most suitable hybrid fuel system configuration and components. This involves choosing the type and size of the renewable energy sources, alternative carbon feeds, conventional fuels, and process equipment, such as gasifiers, electrolysers, reactors, compressors, storage tanks, etc. The selection should be based on the specific requirements and constraints of the thermal process, such as the heat and power demand, the product quality and quantity, the process integration and optimization, etc.
  • Design and install the hybrid fuel system according to safety and environmental standards. This involves following the relevant codes, regulations, and best practices for the design, installation, and operation of the hybrid fuel system components and infrastructure. The design should also consider the potential impacts of the hybrid fuel system on the environment, such as noise, emissions, waste, etc.
  • Monitor and control the hybrid fuel system performance and efficiency. This involves using advanced sensors, controllers, and software to measure and adjust the operating parameters of the hybrid fuel system components and processes. The monitoring and control should also ensure the safety and reliability of the hybrid fuel system and prevent any malfunction or failure.
  • Evaluate and improve the hybrid fuel system performance and profitability. This involves collecting and analysing data on the energy consumption, production output, emission levels, operational costs, revenue streams, etc. of the hybrid fuel system. The evaluation should also identify any gaps or opportunities for improvement and suggest possible solutions or strategies.

These are some of the main steps to implement hybrid fuel systems in the chemical industry. However, each case may have different challenges and opportunities depending on the specific context and conditions. Therefore, it is important to consult with experts and stakeholders before implementing any hybrid fuel system project.

FAQ

How do hybrid fuel systems differ from conventional fuel systems?

Conventional fuel systems use only fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, or natural gas, to power thermal processes in the chemical industry. Hybrid fuel systems use a combination of renewable energy sources and alternative carbon feeds with conventional fossil fuels to power thermal processes in the chemical industry.

What are some examples of renewable energy sources and alternative carbon feeds for hybrid fuel systems?

Renewable energy sources include solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, or biomass energy. Alternative carbon feeds include biomass, waste, or CO2 captured from the atmosphere or industrial processes.

What are some applications of hybrid fuel systems in the chemical industry?

Hybrid fuel systems can be applied to various thermal processes in the chemical industry, such as combustion, gasification, pyrolysis, reforming, Fischer-Tropsch synthesis, methanol synthesis, ammonia synthesis, etc. These processes are used to produce fuels, chemicals, plastics, metals, etc.

What are the challenges and opportunities of hybrid fuel systems for the UK?

The UK faces some challenges in implementing hybrid fuel systems, such as the high investments required, the need to maintain operational continuity, and the long investment cycles and planning periods required. However, the UK also has significant opportunities to be a global leader in hybrid fuel systems, infrastructure, and technical know-how, as well as a history of collaboration between government, industry, and innovators.

How much does it cost to implement a hybrid fuel system in the chemical industry?

The cost of implementing a hybrid fuel system in the chemical industry depends on various factors, such as the type and size of the renewable energy sources and alternative carbon feeds, the type and scale of the thermal process, the location and availability of the infrastructure, the level of integration and optimization, etc. According to a study by the IEA, the levelized cost of hydrogen production from hybrid fuel systems ranges from 1.5 to 6.5 USD/kg H2, depending on the scenario and assumptions.

What are the environmental impacts of hybrid fuel systems in the chemical industry?

Hybrid fuel systems can have positive environmental impacts in the chemical industry by reducing the greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel consumption of thermal processes. However, hybrid fuel systems may also have some negative environmental impacts, such as water consumption, land use, waste generation, noise pollution, etc. These impacts depend on the choice and source of the renewable energy and alternative carbon feeds, as well as the design and operation of the hybrid fuel system components and infrastructure .

What are some examples of successful hybrid fuel system projects in the chemical industry?

There are some examples of successful hybrid fuel system projects in the chemical industry around the world, such as :

  • The H2FUTURE project in Austria, which uses wind electricity to power an electrolyzer that produces green hydrogen for a steel plant.
  • The Sunfire project in Germany, which uses solar thermal energy to power a gasifier that produces syngas from biomass for a methanol plant.
  • The Hybrit project in Sweden, which uses wind electricity to power an electrolyzer that produces green hydrogen for a direct reduced iron (DRI) plant.
  • The LanzaTech project in China, which uses waste gas from a steel plant to produce ethanol and other chemicals via a biological process.

Conclusion

In this blog post, we have discussed how hybrid fuel systems can improve the thermal processes in the chemical industry. We have explained what hybrid fuel systems are and how they work, what are the benefits of hybrid fuel systems for the chemical industry, what are the challenges and opportunities of hybrid fuel systems for the chemical industry, and how to implement hybrid fuel systems in the chemical industry. We hope this blog post has given you some insights and inspiration on how hybrid fuel systems can help the chemical industry achieve its energy and environmental goals.

If you are interested in learning more about hybrid fuel systems or other low-carbon technologies for the chemical industry, please feel free to contact us or look around in our website.

Sources:

  • Hybrid fuel systems for chemical and steel production. IEA. https://www.iea.org/reports/hybrid-fuel-systems-for-chemical-and-steel-production
  • Fischer-Tropsch Synthesis of Renewable Diesel from Biomass-derived Syngas over Cobalt Catalysts: A Review. MDPI. https://www.mdpi.com/1996-1073/11/5/1097
  • Methanol synthesis from biomass-derived syngas over Cu/ZnO catalysts: A review. ScienceDirect. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360319917324459
  • Solar-driven steam methane reforming for hydrogen production: A techno-economic analysis of hybrid solar-fossil fuel systems. ScienceDirect. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S036054421731392X
  • The role of hydrogen and fuel cells in the global energy system. ScienceDirect. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360319918338570
Francois Pierrel
Francois Pierrel
Hi, my name is François and I am passionate about solving process engineering problems. Over the years, I have developed a number of process equipment and control systems which have had a significant impact on reducing energy usage, waste and impact on the environment. My business ethos is to always get to the root cause of problems and data analysis and modelling are always at the forefront of any project we undertake.

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