California trash-to-hydrogen plant promises dirt-cheap, super-green H2

California trash-to-hydrogen plant promises dirt-cheap, super-green H2
The heart of a new "greener than green" hydrogen production facility design planned for Lancaster, California
The heart of a new "greener than green" hydrogen production facility design planned for Lancaster, California
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Production and carbon emissions costs of different types of hydrogen production, as stated by SGH2
Production and carbon emissions costs of different types of hydrogen production, as stated by SGH2
The heart of a new "greener than green" hydrogen production facility design planned for Lancaster, California
The heart of a new "greener than green" hydrogen production facility design planned for Lancaster, California

Lancaster, California will be home to a "greener than green" trash-to hydrogen production plant three times the size of any other green H2 facility. SGH2 says its process is the cleanest of all on the market, while matching the price of the cheapest producers – and pulling tens of thousands of tons of garbage out of landfills.

For better or worse, many world economies are gearing up to make hydrogen a significant part of the future energy economy. Japan and Korea in particular are making big moves and enormous investments to get this zero-local-emissions energy storage format up and running.

Production of hydrogen can vary from the relatively green (electrolysis of fresh water using solar or wind-based energy) to the profoundly filthy (gasification of brown coal) – and the filthiest are by far the cheapest. Adding carbon capture and sequestration to dirty processes simply makes them more expensive.

That's what makes this SGH2 project so interesting – the company claims it can take trash that would otherwise sit in a landfill and rot, and turn it into super-green hydrogen at bargain-basement prices.

According to a recent memorandum of understanding, the city of Lancaster will host and co-own the SGH2 Lancaster plant, which will be capable of producing up to 11,000 kg of H2 per day, or 3.8 million kg per year, while processing up to 42,000 tons of recycled waste per year. Garbage to clean fuel, with a US$2.1 to $3.2 million saving on landfill costs per year as a sweetener.

"We are the only company in the world delivering green hydrogen that is cost competitive with the cheapest, dirtiest hydrogen made from coal and gas, and much less expensive than other green hydrogen" says SGH2 CEO Dr. Robert Do. "Our technology can scale quickly and produce fuel 24/7, year-round."

How it works

The process, developed by SGH2's parent company Solena, uses high-temperature plasma torches putting out temperatures between 3,500 and 4,000 °C (6,332 to 7,232 °F). This ionic heat, with oxygen-enriched gas fed in, catalyzes a "complete molecular dissociation of all hydrocarbons" in whatever fuel you've fed in, and as it rises and begins to cool, it forms "a very high quality, hydrogen-rich bio-syngas free of tar, soot and heavy metals."

The process accepts a wide variety of waste sources, including paper, old tires, textiles, and notably plastics, which it can handle very efficiently without toxic by-products. The bio-syngas exits the top of a plenum chamber, and is sent to a cooling chamber, followed by a pair of acid scrubbers to remove particulate matter.

A centrifugal compressor further cleans the gas stream, leaving a mixture of hydrogen, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. This is run through a water-gas shift reactor that adds water vapor and converts the carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide and more hydrogen gas. The two are separated, neatly capturing all the CO2 as hydrogen comes out the other end.

SPEG Technology

A Berkeley Lab lifecycle carbon analysis concluded, says SGH2, that each ton of hydrogen produced by this process reduces emissions by between 23 and 31 tons of CO2 equivalent – presumably counting emissions that would be created if the garbage was burned instead of converted into hydrogen. That would be between 13-19 tons more carbon dioxide avoided than any other green hydrogen production process.

What's more, while electrolysis requires some 62 kWh of energy to produce one kilogram of hydrogen, the Solena process is energy-positive, generating 1.8 kWh per kg of hydrogen, meaning the plant generates its own electricity and doesn't require external power input.

The 5-acre facility, in a heavy industrial zone of Lancaster, will employ 35 people full-time and create some 600 jobs in construction. SGH2 is hoping to break ground in Q1 2021 and achieve full operational status by 2023. The company is in negotiations with "California's largest owners and operators of hydrogen refueling stations" to buy the plant's entire output for a 10-year period.

SGH2 says it has demonstrated the technology at a full-size 7-year project in Pennsylvania, now dismantled, and a plasma torch testing facility in the Czech republic. The company says the technology "has been vetted and validated, technically and financially, by leading global institutions including the US Export-Import Bank, Barclays and Deutsche Bank, and Shell New Energies’ gasification experts." It has however, according to Power Magazine, not yet raised the US$55 million needed to build the plant.

Production and carbon emissions costs of different types of hydrogen production, as stated by SGH2
Production and carbon emissions costs of different types of hydrogen production, as stated by SGH2

The numbers SGH2 presents are very attractive. We're not sure which methodology has been used to calculate the production costs, though, because they sure don't match up with the numbers in this 2019 Hydrogen Production Cost study, which shows several production methods coming in well under the US$2 per kg mark, and solar PV electrolysis costing as little as US$5.78 per kg. Perhaps the SGH2 table includes the capital costs of building each facility.

Either way, the pump price of hydrogen needs to get down around US$8 per kg before it roughly matches the per-mile cost of gasoline, assuming US$3.50/gallon (according to the California Fuel Cell Partnership). A production price around US$2 per kg should make that eminently possible.

We look forward to hearing more about this project; if hydrogen is going to happen as a substantial part of the new energy economy – and it certainly will, in Japan and Korea at the very least – then a cost-competitive and super-green way to produce it, while reducing landfill waste and disposing of difficult plastics, sounds like an excellent step in the right direction.

The company says it's in negotiations for similar projects in France, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine, Greece, Japan, South Korea, Poland, Turkey, Russia, China, Brazil and Australia.

Source: SGH2

They don't mention the need to compress the hydrogen prior to transportation - that's quite an energy intensive task. I wonder why they don't attach a electricity generating fuel cell at the end of the process to reduce the compression required and simply produce easily exportable electricity (and pure water). It's a great idea to use high temperature plasma to break up pretty much any substance. There's no reason it has to just be organic and plastic: there's a case for recycling electronics this way. With electronics, the resulting dust would be high is all sorts of metals which could be refined back in to useful raw materials. That could save the planet from some of the more obnoxious mining practices.
Why would they dismantle the existing plant in PA, instead of continuing to produce Hydrogen from it?
That's excellent news! But does it take into account getting the Hydrogen to the filling stations, including (as dphiBBydt has mentioned) compression and then truck transport? I'm still not sold on the safety aspect, if someone blows up a gasoline truck it's bad news, but if someone blows up a Hydrogen truck, isn't it far more explosive (as in, the reaction is much faster)? Same for car fuel tanks as gasoline isn't under pressure the way H has to be. But progress is progress and I love to see it.
No heavy metals? You mean the process of full molecular disassociation to atomic elements also fissions heavy metal elements into lighter ones? Wow...
mary o'g
That is great. As well as reducing landfill problems and getting cheaper energy, it is important to destroy what is in the landfills, incubating our next pandemic...diapers, kitty litter, medical waste, rotten food, etc. I am wondering if something similar could be done for sewage, which is a terrible waste of water and another worry for pandemic spread.
If the plant in Pennsylvania was working properly why was it dismantled?
Scott Weinberg
Loz, I know there is a dead line for everything, but sure would be nice to look further into the details.
examples- "3.8 million kg per year, while processing up to 42,000 tons of recycled waste per year" So we get 8,379,000 lbs of H out of 84,000,000 lbs of trash? so really, weight wise, 90% still goes in the hole? yes? and 230,000 +/- lbs per day (raw) 365 days of the year have to fit through the machine of this size? And it was mentioned that "tires" could be part of this, would this be the first utilization of tires without toxic release? Just curious--the other questions were good too. Lets talk about all sides of this, not just the GREEN side.
It appears their numbers are extremely optimistic. To keep from ionizing things that shouldn't be part of the stream (radioactive parts of smoke detectors, heavy metals in electronics) they are going to do much more than that one line 'carefully sorted' waste material...either they need quite a few people sorting the trash material or they need to show where the non-biological waste materials that aren't H2 are going. Feasibly, all the waste gases they have could be compressed and sold for research and manufacturing processes. But $2.00/kg? Sounds too good to be true and in this case I will love to be proven wrong!
Douglas Bennett Rogers
It is hard to believe that there is enough unoxidized hydrogen in the waste stream to power this process let alone make it a viable energy source. It sounds a lot like a plan to use nuclear fusion to distill waste. In that case, energy is cheap and you are using a lot of it to recover materials.
Placing high carbon content solids in landfills IS CARBON SEQUESTRATION! They are pulling the stuff that should be left in the landfill (wood, paper, plastics) and turning it into CO2. Introducing O2 into the process is the same as burning it (creating CO2). This is precisely the opposite of what we should be doing. If anything, we should be pulling the wet solids (food waste, etc.) and pyrolizing it, before placing it in the landfill. Sigh.
It is a mistake to develop fuel cell cars. Use fuel cells for grid management. Store the H2 created from excess energy production as NH3 (ammonia) for when the wind isn't blowing or the sun shining.
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