Imperial Oil, a Canadian company majority owned by ExxonMobil, is to invest about $560m in a new facility in Alberta, Canada, that will produce 20,000 barrels of “renewable diesel” per day from blue hydrogen and vegetable oil.
US company Air Products will supply the blue H2 — produced from fossil gas with carbon capture and storage — from its C$1.6bn ($1.2bn) “Net-zero Hydrogen Energy Complex” in Alberta, which is set to receive C$475m from Canadian federal and provincial governments ahead of commissioning in 2024.
Air Products says it will use a “world-scale auto-thermal reformer” that will be capable of capturing 95% of the emissions from the process, with CO2 used for enhanced oil recovery and permanently stored in underground oil reservoirs via the existing Alberta Carbon Trunk Line.
A portion of the hydrogen at Air Products' facility will be burned “to produce clean electricity for the entire facility and export to the grid, offsetting the 5% remaining CO2 to achieve the net-zero hydrogen facility design”.
Of course, a true net-zero design would remove the remaining 5% of CO2 from the air, rather than just offsetting non-renewable electricity.
The blue hydrogen will then be combined with locally sourced “biofeedstock” — which it has not defined but is typically used cooking oil and maybe animal fats — at Imperial’s Strathcona oil refinery in Edmonton to produce “renewable diesel”, otherwise known as hydrogenated vegetable oil (HVO).
This is a “drop-in fuel” that is chemically the same as conventional diesel and therefore can be dropped in as a direct replacement.
“The low-carbon hydrogen and biofeedstock will be combined with a proprietary catalyst to produce premium lower-emission diesel fuel and will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector, relative to conventional fuels,” said a press release from ExxonMobil.
“Site preparation and initial construction are underway. Renewable diesel production is expected to start in 2025.”
However, ExxonMobil’s use of the word “renewable” is contentious as the hydrogen used in the process is derived from fossil fuel, rather than renewable energy.
“The facility is a part of the corporation’s plans through 2027 to invest approximately $17bn in lower-emission initiatives,” added the press release.
ExxonMobil has so far steered clear of making actual “green” investments, such as in renewable energy, preferring instead to focus on “lower-emission” fossil-fuel-related activities, such as carbon capture and storage, and more speculative technologies such as direct-air capture and nuclear fusion.
Under pressure from investors, it released a “net-zero strategy” of sorts in January last year, which set out an “aspiration” to reach net-zero emissions by mid-century, but only for Scope 1 & 2 greenhouse gas emissions — those covering its global operations and facilities.
It has not included Scope 3 emissions — those resulting from the end use of its fossil-fuel products — which accounts for the vast majority of its overall carbon footprint.
ExxonMobil has been one of the leading climate change deniers in the corporate world, despite its own scientists making “breathtakingly” accurate predictions about global warming in the 1970s and 80s.