Rubbish to be turned into hydrogen in world-first project

Oct 30, 2021 News

Rubbish to be turned into hydrogen in world-first project

The plans by Advanced Biofuel Solutions Limited (ABSL) are set to be expanded to cover 650,000 households across five larger plants, the first of which is expected to open in Cheshire in 2025.

The gasification process, which does not release any carbon dioxide or other pollutants into the air, is different to existing processes which burn waste as fuel for electricity.

At the Swindon plant, which can process 8,000 tonnes of waste each year, the warm-up process has begun and the first shipments of household waste are expected to arrive within weeks.

The process involves heating up mixed household waste to 800C alongside pure oxygen to make carbon monoxide and hydrogen. Recyclable materials such as metal and plastic are removed first.

Boris Johnson filling a hydrogen powered tractor earlier this month

Credit: Jamie Lorriman

Initially, this hydrogen will be further processed to become methane – already widely used in transport and boilers – but the company hopes that growing demand for hydrogen will make it worthwhile to sell the cleaner fuel in the coming years.

Currently, most hydrogen is created from methane in natural gas fossil fuels, a process which has high carbon dioxide emissions, so-called "grey hydrogen".

Scientists have been working on capturing and storing this carbon in a process known as "blue hydrogen", though critics say this process is energy-intensive and may not be any cleaner than using fossil fuels.

Hydrogen can also be made using electrolysis, which is known as "green hydrogen" as long as the energy is from renewable sources, but this is expensive and energy-intensive.

ABSL say their process offers an alternative to these options, and also involves capturing the carbon dioxide and liquefying it.

It can then be used to carbonate drinks, in food packaging and in making beer, though initially it will be used for non-edible uses such as fire extinguishers while quality tests are done to allow it to be used in food and drink.

Chief executive Andy Cornell said: "There’s clearly a range of industrial heating applications, and even domestic heating, which won’t be able to be met by electrification.

"So we’re a solution for those areas. And then there are areas of transport – HGVs, buses – where electrification won’t necessarily work.

"So we’re not going to be the solution to decarbonise all of the economy. It’s just picking the areas where you need fuels in order to be successful."

The company says it will be the first in the world to take household waste and make it into gas that can be added to the grid.

The ambitious project, which originally began in 2008, has faced problems, with a previous company going into administration. Some funding has come from the Government, including an £11m grant from the Department for Transport.

Critics of gasification plants say the process can lead to more waste if they end up processing recyclable products such as plastic, and that more focus should go on reducing the amount of materials used and thrown away and improving sorting and recycling.

Similar projects have faced technological problems, with American company Air Products cancelling two planned developments in the North East in 2016, blaming "design and operational challenges". 

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