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Howard Energy plans carbon-neutral, blue hydrogen facility at Port of Corpus Christi

Highlights

Port aims to become nation's leading carbon capture and storage hub

Howard would scale up hydrogen production at existing Javelina plant

Howard acquired Javelina in February from MPLX

The Port of Corpus Christi said Aug. 12 it inked a non-binding deal to help convert Howard Energy Partners' newly acquired Javelina refinery services facility into the region's first carbon-neutral, blue hydrogen production plant.

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The new memorandum of understanding deal comes as the Port of Corpus Christi aims to position itself to become the nation's top carbon capture and sequestration management hub with its location along a network of existing refineries, pipelines and storage and export terminals. Having emerged as the country's leading crude oil-exporting hub in addition to its legacy oil-refining industry, the port also wants to play a bigger role in the ongoing energy transition as hydrogen and CO2 are increasingly commoditized.

Port leaders also said the port is committed to developing much-needed infrastructure to collect and pressurize CO2 for injection in permanent geological storage formations offshore in the Gulf of Mexico.

"To the extent that our identity as the leading export gateway for US-produced hydrocarbons has been solidified, we see an elegant symmetry in the prospect of becoming the nation's premier hub for carbon management," said Jeff Pollack, the port's chief strategy and sustainability officer, in a statement.

San Antonio-based Howard Energy just acquired the Javelina facility in February from Marathon Petroleum's midstream spinoff, MPLX.

Javelina historically produces olefins, hydrogen and NGLs from the gas streams produced by local refineries for use in the energy and petrochemical markets. Javelina is connected by pipeline to all of the major refineries in the area.

Port officials and Howard Energy said they ultimately hope to scale up Javelina's hydrogen production for export to overseas demand centers.

Javelina currently controls about 60 MMcf/d of hydrogen production from the refineries' waste gas and hydrogen produced through a steam methane reformer process. The hydrogen currently is sold back to the refineries and other industries where it is used for removing impurities, such as sulfur, during the refining process.

"With this exciting project and progressive partnership with the Port of Corpus Christi, we are demonstrating yet again our commitment to delivering clean, reliable energy that powers communities and business around the world," said Howard CEO Mike Howard in a statement.

Blue versus green

The project would utilize so-called "blue" hydrogen from fossil fuel, as opposed to the more expensive but environmentally friendlier "green hydrogen" from non-fossil fuel sources.

However, while the hydrogen itself produces no carbon emissions, a new study from Cornell University and Stanford University researchers found that full lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions from burning blue hydrogen on average exceeded the emissions from burning natural gas. The report essentially argued that blue hydrogen has no role to play in a clean energy future and would only help extend the usage of fossil fuels.

According to Howard's MOU, the company intends to capture its carbon emissions at Javelina, avoiding atmospheric release. Howard and the port would collaborate to identify uses for the residual CO2, as well as capture and storage options. Captured CO2 also can be utilized for the production of other products, such as steel and cement.

Port of Corpus Christi CEO Sean Strawbridge also noted the new August report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, called IPCC, which called for immediate and aggressive actions to avoid the most dire impacts of climate change, including the imperative for eliminating all CO2 emissions by 2050. Much more permanent carbon capture and storage would be required to meet such goals.

"The mandate in the latest IPCC report is clear, and while the energy sector certainly can't shoulder this responsibility on its own, we must lead by example," Strawbridge said in a statement. "Our future as the 'Energy Port of the Americas' starts with building a scalable carbon capture and storage solution to serve the needs of our existing customers and convert more Texas gas into carbon neutral hydrogen for the global markets."