Construction Underway for World’s First Ethanol-Based Hydrogen Fueling Station

By August 14, 2023 5   min read  (825 words)

August 14, 2023 |

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Hydrogen fueling station for research and development will be built at usp.

The project intends to validate ethanol as a vector to produce renewable hydrogen.

São Paulo– This Thursday, the construction of the world’s first experimental ethanol-based renewable hydrogen (H2) fueling station was kicked off at the University of São Paulo (USP) campus, in São Paulo, Brazil. The pilot plant will occupy an area of 425 square meters and have the capacity to produce 4.5 kg of H2 per hour to fuel up to three buses and one light vehicle. This Research & Development project is being funded through a R$50 million investment by Shell Brasil, in compliance with the RD&I clause established by the Brazilian National Agency of Petroleum, Natural Gas and Biofuels (ANP). The station is being developed through a partnership among Hytron, Raízen, SENAI CETIQT and the University of São Paulo, through the Research Center for Greenhouse Gases Innovation (RCGI). To test the viability of the project, the parties also signed a memorandum of understanding with Toyota. The experimental station is expected to be operating in the second half of 2024.

“The objective of this innovative project is to try to demonstrate that ethanol can be a vector to produce renewable hydrogen, leveraging the industry’s existing logistics. Technology can help decarbonize sectors that consume energy from fossil fuels,” said Cristiano Pinto da Costa, CEO of Shell Brasil.

Equipment that will be installed at the site includes an ethanol steam reformer developed and manufactured by Hytron. It is in this piece of equipment that the conversion of ethanol into hydrogen will take place, through a chemical process called steam reforming, in which ethanol is subjected to specific temperatures and pressures to react with water inside the reactor. “We are contributing Hytron’s pioneering technology in Brazil to demonstrate a disruptive solution through which hydrogen produced from ethanol will play an even more significant and high-impact role in the local and global energy transition,” said Daniel Lopes, commercial director at Hytron.

During the operation of the experimental station, researchers will validate calculations on the emissions and costs of the hydrogen production process. “Our current estimate is that the cost of producing hydrogen from ethanol is comparable to the cost of producing hydrogen through natural gas reforming, as is done in Brazil. The volume of emissions, in turn, are comparable to the process of water electrolysis powered by electricity from wind sources,” said Julio Meneghini, scientific director at RCGI.

The ethanol needed to produce hydrogen will be supplied by Raízen, the world’s largest producer of ethanol from sugarcane. Currently, ethanol is transported from the production site to its destination in tank trucks with capacity to store 45,000 liters (equivalent to approximately 6,000 kg of hydrogen). This same type of vehicle would be able to transport only 1,500 kg—four times less—of compressed hydrogen. Another advantage of this solution is that it can be easily replicated globally, thanks to the low cost of transporting the biofuel. Ricardo Mussa, CEO of Raízen,  believes that “renewable hydrogen produced from ethanol will play a significant role in the energy matrix in the coming decades, mainly because it significantly reduces the challenges involved in transporting and distributing the product. Renewable hydrogen can use the ethanol infrastructure that is already in place in gas stations, ensuring fast, sustainable and safe fueling of vehicles.”

The SENAI Institute for Innovation in Biosynthetic and Fibers at SENAI CETIQT will carry out computer simulations to make the equipment more efficient, identifying opportunities for improvement and increasing the conversion rate of ethanol into renewable hydrogen. “We are very excited to be a part of this revolutionary project. With our focus on advanced solutions and the bioeconomy, we will work closely with our partners to optimize the ethanol reformer, helping make this promising technology a reality for Brazil and the world,” said João Bruno Bastos, manager of the Institute.

The hydrogen produced at the station will fuel buses provided by the Metropolitan Urban Transport Company of São Paulo (EMTU/SP) to circulate exclusively within the university campus. To test the performance of hydrogen, Toyota is providing the project with a Mirai, the world’s first hydrogen vehicle commercialized on a large scale, with batteries that are charged from the chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen in the fuel cell (fuel cell electric vehicle). “Brazil is a country with a strong calling to biofuels. We see hydrogen as a clean, renewable energy source that plays an important role in efforts to reduce CO2 emissions. Our participation in this project is the company’s first step to test the use of this new technology in the country. We are interested and willing to work together with the state government to make sustainable transport possible by using renewable hydrogen from ethanol,” said Rafael Chang, CEO of Toyota do Brasil. 




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