Hydrogen (H2) is an energy vector that has shown great promise worldwide as a solution for meeting climate challenges. This is because it is able to store and supply large quantities of energy per mass unit without creating CO2 emissions during combustion. It is the simplest and most abundant element on the planet and in the solar system, though rarely available in its free molecular state (H2). Instead, it is usually found in combination with other chemical elements, such as water (H2O) and hydrocarbons (CH4).
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How is hydrogen used?
today comes from fossil fuels
Global use of pure hydrogen¹
global use of hydrogen blended with other gases²
of extracted natural gas used in H₂ production
1 mainly used for ammonia production and in the refining sector
2 mainly for methanol production and in the steel industry
Eni’s commitment to hydrogen
At Eni, we are working on all aspects of low-carbon hydrogen production: from natural gas reforming in combination with emissions capture (‘blue hydrogen’) to renewable energy (‘green hydrogen’) and, following a circular economy approach, developing technologies for producing sustainable hydrogen from waste products. Two green hydrogen projects are planned at the Gela biorefinery and at the Taranto refinery to contribute to their decarbonization, supported by the IPCEI Hy2Use initiative promoted by thirteen countries of the European Commission. In addition, Eni has recently joined the European Clean Hydrogen Alliance and is also one of 17 players from the energy sector participating in the ‘Hydrogen for Europe’ study, the aim of which is to assess how hydrogen can contribute to achieving climate neutrality on the continent. In the coming years, hydrogen will be one of the ways ahead for reducing GHG emissions to meet the zero net emissions goal, helping to develop an increasingly wide range of decarbonized solutions for our customers.
Eni is the largest producer and consumer of hydrogen in Italy, but we have to work to create a system that makes these investments and this development viable, and which will lead to the creation of a true market for hydrogen.
Promoting the use of low-carbon hydrogen throughout the decarbonization process would make a key contribution to reducing emissions and help pave the way to EU carbon neutrality by 2050. Low-carbon hydrogen would also provide a solution to the decarbonization of highly energy-intensive (‘hard-to-abate’) industries where electrification is not currently feasible. Hydrogen production technologies are complementary and not competing with other technologies. At Eni, we believe there is a need for a shared classification of hydrogen production technologies according to how much they contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We believe that following a technologically-neutral approach is crucial, developing and applying all available and sustainable low-carbon technologies across the board, without excluding any. At Eni, we therefore believe that an effective hydrogen strategy should recognise and support the contribution that all forms of clean hydrogen make towards decarbonization, also in order to maximise resource efficiency and the implementation of circular economy principles.
We are one of the largest producers and consumers of hydrogen in Italy. To date, hydrogen has been used mainly as a feedstock in traditional refining processes, as well as for the production of hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) biofuels in our Venice and Gela biorefineries. Hydrogen, in our refineries and biorefineries, is used directly in the production processes. It is produced mainly by steam methane reforming (SMR), a technology now widely adopted in the industry. As part of our strategy and with the aim of having a further and concrete possibility to decarbonize hard-to-abate production processes, as Eni we have identify in this area a great transformation opportunity. The principal projects for the production of low-carbon hydrogen in which we are involved are:
In February 2022, we signed an agreement with Edison and Ansaldo Energia to experiment with the production of hydrogen for use in place of methane in Edison’s new power station in Porto Maghera. The hydrogen used is either “green”, which means hydrogen derived from water by electrolysis using energy from renewable sources, or “blue”, in other words produced from methane, but involving capture of the CO2 emitted as part of the process.
At Eni, we want to produce blue hydrogen by steam reforming of natural gas with capture of the CO₂ associated to the production process. This will contribute to reducing the carbon footprint of hydrogen used as feedstock in our plants, in line with the gradual decarbonisation of our energy products.The purpose of carbon capture and storage (CCS) is primarily to reduce CO₂ emissions from heavy industry (including refining, iron and steel, glass, chemicals, cement plants etc.), while at the same time promoting the development of a blue-energy supply chain (blue hydrogen and blue energy). In Italy, the Ravenna area presents a unique opportunity for the production of blue hydrogen, thanks to our ‘Adriatic Blue’ project. By taking advantage of the combination of depleted offshore gas deposits and existing infrastructures, this will provide a secure storage site for all industrial emissions in the area.
Our research and development teams are currently developing kGas, a technology that can be used to convert natural gas into syngas (the mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide that, through partial catalytic oxidation of natural gas, can become a valuable source of H₂). In addition to being a more energy-efficient system than those currently on the market, kGas is able to produce syngas and hydrogen with a significant reduction in CO₂ emissions, potentially using biomethane as a raw material. This process could become the technology of choice for the production of blue hydrogen as it allows for more efficient CO₂ capture.
The circular economy is one of the pillars of Eni’s decarbonization strategy. In our Venice refinery we are currently assessing the implementation of our Waste-to-Hydrogen project, which is based on an innovative gasification technology. It is a process for the production of sustainable hydrogen through the gasification of non-recyclable waste (i.e. Plasmix¹ and SSF²) – waste that is currently used in waste-to-energy plants or sent to landfill. It allows for the production of sustainable H₂ in synergy with refinery plants, therefore helping to reduce emissions linked to conventional waste treatment and conventional hydrogen production. With an on-site gasification system for hydrogen production, a GHG saving of 90% can be achieved compared to hydrogen production from steam reforming. The calculation of GHG savings is carried out on a life-cycle analysis (LCA) basis and takes into account the emissions avoided by using waste as feedstock for the Waste-to-Hydrogen project instead of as feedstock for a conventional waste-to-energy plant.
1 Plasmix: non-recyclable plastic waste
2 SSF: secondary solid fuel – fraction derived from sorted waste in mechanical-biological treatment plants
At Eni we are also developing projects for the production of hydrogen from renewable sources through the electrolysis of water (so-called green hydrogen). A collaboration in this area exists between Eni and Enel. Two projects developed by the South Italy Green Hydrogen Joint Venture set up by the two companies are among the Italian beneficiaries of IPCEI Hy2Use, the European Commission's thirteen-country initiative that will provide up to €5.2 billion for the hydrogen sector. Supported by IPCEI Hy2Use, the South Italy Green Hydrogen's two green hydrogen plants will be built in the Gela bio-refinery and near the Taranto refinery. The electrolysers will have a capacity of 20 MW and 10 MW respectively, both with Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) cells. The hydrogen they will produce will be obtained exclusively from renewable sources and will contribute to the decarbonization process of the two plants. Green hydrogen is also part of the collaboration among Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP), Eni and Snam for the decarbonisation of the energy system. Specifically, the three companies, in accordance with the applicable regulations (primarily the unbundling regulation), will promote possible joint initiatives, including partnerships, aimed at developing the production, transportation and marketing of green hydrogen. The cooperation will also involve the production and use of hydrogen in rail transport, leveraging Eni’s expertise in the field of electricity and renewable energy production and Snam’s expertise in infrastructure and electrolysers, as well as in storage and logistics solutions.
Finally, in April 2021, we signed a Letter of Intent with FNM SpA to establish a strategic partnership for the decarbonization of transport in Lombardy – an undertaking that also involves the use of hydrogen. This joint venture is one aspect of the H2iseO project initiated by FNM and train operator Trenord (in which FNM has a shareholding). The project is likely to transform the Lake Iseo/Valcamonica region into Italy’s ‘Hydrogen Valley’.
Hydrogen JRP: a platform for developing hydrogen technologies
To speed up development of a hydrogen industry in Italy, the Fondazione Politecnico di Milano and the Polytechnic University of Milan, along with Edison, Eni and Snam, have launched a Hydrogen Joint Research Platform (Hydrogen JRP), a venture dedicated to developing hydrogen-related technologies.
Key activities will include:
- Production of clean hydrogen (green and ‘low carbon’)
- Solutions for transporting hydrogen and advanced accumulation/storage systems
- Innovative electrochemical and thermal applications in residential, industrial and transport-related environments
- Developing best practice for the planning and development of hydrogen transportation and storage infrastructure.
Hydrogen JRP is also open to other organisations. Drawing on support from Italy’s leading university, proposals for innovative research projects for this new energy vector are invited. Hydrogen is regarded as critical to successful decarbonization by the European Union.
ENERGY SHOT#11 - The hydrogen way
Hydrogen and sustainable mobility
Hydrogen is a compelling option for sustainable mobility in the medium term, having great potential for development as an energy carrier for cars and especially for hard-to-abate transport sectors such as heavy and long-distance road transport where electrical solutions are not technically viable. It could also offer a solution for maritime mobility in the long term. Furthermore, hydrogen produced from waste can contribute to achieving decarbonization targets for the transport sector under EU Directive 2018/2001, which recognises the contribution of fuels from recycled carbon. At present, however, the development of European mobility based on hydrogen is hampered by high production and distribution costs and the lack of an adequate infrastructure network. For this reason, at Eni, we are currently working on the development of two hydrogen refuelling stations: one in San Donato Milanese, where hydrogen will be produced on site using an electrolyser, and another in the municipality of Venice.
Hydrogen can also be used for generating electricity
At Eni, we have gained substantial expertise in the combustion of hydrogen and natural gas blends in existing gas turbines. In this area, we are currently developing technology to increase the percentage of hydrogen used to fuel our Enipower gas turbines to generate low-carbon electricity.
Read more about hydrogen
Selected contents on this issue.