China’s transition from grey to green hydrogen: The role of coal

China produces about 34 million metric tonnes of hydrogen per year (tpy) out of a world total of about 80 million tpy. While China accounts for almost half of the world’s hydrogen production, only a small fraction of the hydrogen produced in China is made by electrolysis powered by intermittent renewable energy (IRE), about 510,000 tonnes.

In contrast, about one-third of China’s 34 million tpy of hydrogen is produced as a by-product of an industrial process, such as coal gasification, coke oven gas (COG) from steel production, propane dehydrogenation (PDH), and chlor-alkali, to name a few. Of these processes, coal is largest source.

Most by-product hydrogen from coal is from low-temperature pyrolysis processes. China’s coal reserves are concentrated in the north of the country, especially in Shanxi Province. Gasification projects in Shanxi compose more than 25% of China’s total capacity of hydrogen from coal. Shanxi also produces the vast majority of China’s steel, around 60 million tpy. Most gasified coal in Shanxi is used to manufacture methanol which is commonly burned as a heating fuel. While coal gasification is a fraction of the coke oven gas (COG) produced in the province, gasification production is still significant at over one billion cubic meters per year.

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