Central regions | Technology & innovation

With new Skoltech technology, no carbon dioxide emissions in methane-hydrogen conversion

2 Jul '21
Scientists from the Hydrocarbon Production Center of the Skolkovo University of Science and Technology (Skoltech) are working on the creation of a technology for producing methane-based hydrogen underground. This method allows automatic disposal of carbon dioxide emissions, completely eliminating their impact on the atmosphere.

Deputy Director of the Center for Hydrocarbon Production, Skoltech Professor Alexei Cheremisin spoke about the potential revolution in hydrogen energy.

“We have gigantic volumes of methane”
“The idea is that the generation takes place right underground. The process is roughly the same as on the surface: methane, water vapor, and a catalyst. After that, a selective membrane is lowered into the well, which allows actually producing only hydrogen, and the rest of the gases, including CO2, can be left underground. That is, CO2 is being released, but it is automatically buried,” said Alexey Cheremisin. “If the pilot project succeeds, it will actually be the production of blue hydrogen without all the intermediate stages.”
Today, the most environmentally friendly is the so-called green hydrogen, which is obtained by electrolysis of water using renewable energy sources: solar panels, wind turbines and others. It is its massive use as an environmentally friendly energy source that is being discussed all over the world within the framework of the so-called climate agenda. It is actively promoted, including by the countries of the European Union.

At the same time, the carbon footprint of green hydrogen production may turn out to be significantly larger than that of the methane-based blue hydrogen production technology being developed at Skoltech.
“The question here is how we take into account the sustainability of renewable energy sources. If we evaluate their entire life cycle and the associated carbon footprint, then it is necessary to take into account the production of the wind turbines themselves or solar panels, and their utilization, and the requirements for the extraction of rare earth metals. If we analyze this entire trace, then in fact steam reforming with storage of carbon dioxide will be more environmentally friendly,” Cheremisin explained.
Deputy Director of the Center for Hydrocarbon Production noted that the development can be successfully used even at fields with small gas reserves.
“This technology eliminates the stage where methane is extracted and steam reforming is done at the surface. This may be promising for depleted fields - those that are at the last stage of development,” said Alexei Cheremisin.
The project is currently at the stage of research and development, but several major players in the oil and gas industry are already interested in this idea.
“At present two or three companies in the world are already actively pursuing similar developments. A pilot is planned in Canada and the second, as far as I know, in the USA. In Russia, we are discussing this technology with several corporations - there is interest. But given the speed of decision making, it may take two or three years, at least,” the scientist noted.
Alexey Cheremisin added that in case of successful tests of this technology, it will be possible to resolve the issue of production environmentally friendly blue hydrogen on a large scale, including for foreign consumers. At the same time, the existing infrastructure of the oil and gas complex can be used for the production and transportation of hydrogen.
“We have gigantic volumes of gas reserves - we are the first in the world by this indicator. In addition, the infrastructure for both gas production and transmission is well developed, including cross-border trunk pipelines,” Cheremisin added.
“You can just burn it.”

Meanwhile, some experts today have doubts about the relevance of such projects due to the unclear prospects for demand for energy hydrogen.
“Nowadays hydrogen is used mainly in the chemical industry, and methane is used for energy. What's the point of extracting hydrogen from it if you can just burn it?” the Director General of the Institute of National Energy Sergey Pravosudov expressed his opinion.
According to the expert, even if we consider the production of hydrogen in the context of energy transition and the course taken by the West towards “green” energy, the demand for the produced from methane to hydrogen abroad is in doubt.
“Various technologies of hydrogen production exist in principle even now. But Western countries say that in principle they do not like the approach with the use of hydrocarbons. And they offer to get hydrogen from water,” explained Pravosudov.
Sergey Pravosudov agreed that the production and use of green hydrogen looks extremely illogical from the point of view of energy efficiency and environmental friendliness. But blue hydrogen, which is more justified in this respect, according to the expert, is not yet of interest in the EU.
“Russia is the world leader in methane reserves. Of course, we can release hydrogen from it. The question is how much is needed. We need to sign contracts with someone,” Pravosudov noted.
However, Skoltech scientists are optimistic. According to Aleksey Cheremisin, the main issues in the development of large-scale production of blue hydrogen today are the creation of efficient generating capacities and the development of mechanisms for utilizing carbon dioxide emissions. If the project successfully passes pilot testing, it can become a ready-made solution for both problems.
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