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S Korea takes another step toward hydrogen economy with Hanwha's byproduct plant

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Hanwha starts production at byproduct hydrogen-based plant

Country fast implementing projects for transportation, power

Singapore — From setting up the biggest liquid hydrogen plant in the world to producing the carbon-free fuel as a byproduct, South Korea is fast implementing new technologies to expand the scope of hydrogen production as it bets on robust growth prospects -- moves that might encourage other Asian countries to follow suit.

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After recently unveiling plans to set up the world's largest liquid hydrogen plant, South Korea now has another first -- starting commercial production at the world's first byproduct hydrogen-based fuel cell power plant.

The projects form a part of the South Korean government's hydrogen blueprint that aims to sharply boost output of hydrogen-powered vehicles and electricity generation from hydrogen in an effort to use hydrogen as a major energy source for transportation and power generation.

Last week, South Korea's renewable energy company Hanwha Energy said it has started commercial production at the world's first byproduct hydrogen-based fuel cell power plant.

Hanwha Energy has spent Won 255 billion ($215 million) since July 2018 to build the hydrogen-based fuel cell power plant with a capacity of 50 MW, at its complex in Daesan on the country's western coast, according to a company official.

"We completed construction of the plant late last month and started commercial production," the official said, noting the plant will generate 400,000 MWh of electricity a year, using hydrogen recycled from petrochemical manufacturing.

"The plant is the world's first and largest hydrogen fuel cell power plant powered solely by hydrogen that is extracted as a byproduct from petrochemical production," the official added.

The recycled hydrogen will be supplied by Hanwha Energy's affiliate Hanwha Total Petrochemical, whose plant is located in the same Daesan complex.

"We are receiving 3 mt/hour of recycled hydrogen from Hanwha Total via underground pipes," the official said.

Hanwha Total runs a 180,000 b/d condensate splitter to produce oil products such as LPG, gasoline, jet fuel and kerosene. It also runs an LPG-cracking unit, with a capacity of 310,000 mt/year of ethylene and 130,000 mt/year of propylene.

The hydrogen-based fuel cell power plant is owned 49% by Hanwha Energy, followed by Korea East-West Power with 35%, Doosan Fuel Cell with a 10% stake and financial investors with a 6% stake.

Hanwha Energy is in charge of operating the plant, while Korea East-West Power purchases electricity produced in the plant for local supply. Doosan Fuel Cell provides fuel cells and offers maintenance services for the plant.

Expanding scope of production

Analysts said that the byproduct-based hydrogen fuel cell power plant would be implementing a few advanced technologies, which would be an example for other countries in the region -- aspiring to have make hydrogen a key part of their energy mix -- to follow suit.

"South Korea continues to be at the forefront of the hydrogen industry development. This project is not only one of the largest hydrogen facilities in the world but it also implements several innovative technologies," said Edgare Kerkwijk, board member of the Asia-Pacific Hydrogen Association.

"It will be a showcase for other industrial majors in South Korea and other countries to follow."

The construction of the hydrogen fuel cell power plant is part of Hanwha Energy's effort to diversify its business focused on conventional power generation and solar power.

South Korea currently imports 100% of its crude oil needs. Under the "roadmap for hydrogen economy," South Korea will produce 81,000 hydrogen-powered cars by 2022, which will increase to 6.2 million units by 2040, which is significant given South Korea has a total of 22 million vehicles on the road, using mainly gasoline, diesel and LPG as fuels.

The blueprint also calls for the country to supply 15 GW of hydrogen fuel cell capacity for electricity production by 2040, of which 8 GW will be for domestic use. The 8 GW capacity is about 7% of South Korea's combined power generation capacity of 116 GW.

In May, South Korea's chemical-focused conglomerate Hyosung Group signed a deal with Linde for a Won 300 billion project to build the world's largest liquid hydrogen plant by 2022, with a capacity of 13,000 mt/year.

Hyundai Motor, South Korea's leading automaker, is looking to expand the fuel's scope by setting up infrastructure, a stepping stone in realizing the government's hydrogen blueprint unveiled last year.

The government aims to increase the number of hydrogen charging stations to 310 by 2022 from the current 37 across the country, while offering other incentives for infrastructure and technologies for hydrogen cars.

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