- BP sees rapid growth in low-carbon hydrogen
- fuel to benefit from government subsidies
- CEO Looney announces hydrogen production targets
- BP is planning a major hydrogen project at its Whiting, Indiana, refinery
LONDON (Reuters) – BP Chief Executive Bernard Looney is betting on hydrogen to power the low-carbon companies of the future as governments in major economies raise money to develop fuels for decarbonization.
Low-carbon hydrogen already has a large fan base and is expected to play a major role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from heavy industry and some forms of transportation.
But it is expensive to produce and often needs government subsidies to compete against fossil fuels.
The US, for example, offers significant incentives to produce them under President Joe Biden’s $430 billion Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).
BP.L was quick to react and is in the early planning stages of developing a large, low-carbon hydrogen center around its Whiting, Indiana refinery, Tomica McLeod, BP’s newly appointed head of hydrogen in the US, told Reuters.
When Looney took office nearly three years ago, he pledged to reshape BP and cut carbon emissions by reducing oil and gas production and developing renewables. He is preparing to brief investors on February 7 on the current situation.
BP sources told Reuters that hydrogen will play a starring role alongside offshore wind.
BP has reformed its structure to create a dedicated hydrogen division led by Philippe Arbelaez which has 150 employees. It has also made several investments in large hydrogen projects, including in Australia, Europe and Britain.
The company told Reuters that it is also studying the potential for developing green hydrogen in Oman, and is also studying projects in Mauritania.
Company sources said BP’s spending on low-carbon hydrogen remains modest but is expected to grow into the hundreds of millions by the end of the decade as projects start.
BP spent nearly a quarter of its $15.5 billion budget in 2022 on the low-carbon business, when it included the $4.1 billion acquisition of US biogas producer Arkea, according to Reuters calculations.
Company sources said that in February Anja Isabel Dutzenrath, head of renewables at Looney and BP will unveil its clean hydrogen production target for the first time, aiming for a 10% share of hydrogen in “core markets” by 2030.
“Hydrogen is going to be a huge focus, and it’s moving much faster than we ever thought,” CFO Murray Auchinclose told Reuters last month.
Most hydrogen is currently used in oil refining and fertilizer making and is usually made by heating natural gas, a highly polluting process known as gray hydrogen.
But gray hydrogen becomes “blue hydrogen” if polluting emissions are captured. There’s also “green hydrogen,” which is produced by splitting water using electrolysis that’s powered by renewable energy.
To expand its blue hydrogen business, BP is drawing on its expertise in oil and gas to build carbon capture and storage facilities, where carbon is injected into depleted reservoirs.
It also plans to boost its renewable energy generation capacity to 50 gigawatts by 2030, which will be partially used for electric power generation.
BP declined to comment on whether it would set a hydrogen production target or its hydrogen spending plans.
McLeod said BP’s project at the Whiting refinery would initially replace about 200,000 tonnes of gray hydrogen used by the refinery each year with blue hydrogen. The project could start operating by 2026-2027 and expand to green hydrogen.
“Our focus in the US, and it’s similar around the world, is how do we decarbonize and reimagine our own assets,” she said.
The low-carbon fuel in the second phase will be used by other heavy industries in the region to reduce about 36 million tons of carbon dioxide emitted there each year.
The project will rely on subsidies, highlighting the challenge hydrogen faces in competing with low-cost fossil fuels.
The IRA is offering a $3 per kilogram tax credit for clean hydrogen, which makes green hydrogen equal to or even less than the cost of gray and blue hydrogen, according to analysts.
“With the hydrogen production tax credits now in place … it has allowed green hydrogen to be more competitive,” McLeod said.
McLeod said the subsidies would initially allow green and blue hydrogen to compete with gray hydrogen, allowing consumers to switch to cleaner fuels.
“Demand growth for new hydrogen applications will be a function of cost competitiveness,” said Andy Brogan, global head of oil and gas at EY.
“There are physical components to energy demand where hydrogen is the only clear technologically viable alternative to carbon intensive options,” Brogan said. “However, these are often price sensitive, so rapid acceleration will depend on cost.”
BP is already one of the largest investors in hydrogen projects among the world’s largest oil and gas companies, including Shell (SHEL.L), TotalEnergies (TTEF.PA) and Italy’s Repsol and Eni (ENI.MI), according to data provider Globaldata. .
BP in June acquired a 40.5% stake in a 26-gigawatt renewable energy project in Australia that could produce green hydrogen. It is developing two projects in Britain where it aims to produce 1.5 gigawatts of blue and green hydrogen by 2030.
(Reporting by Ron Bousso) Editing by Simon Webb and Jane Merriman
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