Harnessing the power of the sun, to power a hydrogen future

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Richard Spires
Director Of Technology Development at Wood

Hydrogen is a colourful subject; grey refers to hydrogen production via thermal reforming of hydrocarbons, blue is production with the same traditional grey process coupled with carbon capture, whilst green hydrogen is generated through water electrolysis and renewable energy sources such as wind or solar power.

Grey is widely considered to be the current benchmarking process offering the greatest scalability and lowest cost of production, but it accounts for 6% of the global natural gas use and is the source of significant emissions. But what if we could combine the benefits of green and grey hydrogen? What if we didn’t have to rely on combustion to drive thermal reforming?

A thermal solar based hydrogen production solution would not only offer a scalable alternative to the current higher cost electrolysis route, but while hydrocarbons remain a feedstock, the solar energy powering the conversion to hydrogen would not generate emissions allowing for a cleaner future.

Wood recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Synhelion, a Swiss clean energy company that has developed a cutting-edge solar receiver to deliver process heat directly from the sun. As part of this agreement, Wood and Synhelion will jointly test an integrated system including Synhelion’s high temperature solar receiver and Wood’s own novel hydrogen reforming reactor technology.

By harnessing the solar thermal energy via Synhelion’s technology and efficiently employing that energy in a steam reforming reaction via Wood’s technology, this application can deliver hydrogen with a vastly reduced environmental impact when compared to other reforming processes.

Both companies are working together to design, build, install and commission an industrial scale hydrogen and syngas plant at a solar testing facility in Jülich, Germany. The testing will be completed over a two-month period to take full advantage of the summer month’s sun rays and demonstrate the production of solar thermal hydrogen.

Wood has developed and deployed novel technologies for decades and continues to seek new ways to make, move and use hydrogen that will help enable the energy transition. With our strategic collaborations uniting experts from around the world, we are on a quest to unlock solutions that will accelerate the development of carbon reduction solutions providing a cleaner future for all.

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