Zeeland Refinery – Map to a Greener Future

Zeeland Refinery is a leading facility in the industry, but it is entering a bold new age.

The Zeeland Refinery is a middle-sized European refinery based in the Netherlands, turning crude oil into fuel and essential raw materials. The refinery’s goal is to be sustainable, flexible, and ranking among the best in Western Europe. The firm has set itself bold long-term ambitions in safety, sustainability, the environment, people and cost control.

A very specific feature of its architecture means it has the world’s largest hydrocracker unit in operation,” explains Nathalie De Muynck, General Manager of Zeeland Refinery.

As De Muynck points out, that hydrocracker unit has put the Zeeland Refinery on the map, but it is more a symbol of Zeeland Refinery’s history than its future.

“We used to be special because of the hydrocracker while the diesel market was strong but today the ticket is the route map that will bring us into the low carbon clean hydrogen production sector,” De Muynck says. “We’re currently in the process of transitioning into the low carbon world.”

Stepping Stones to Low Carbon

Entering that low carbon world is a long process, but it is one that Zeeland Refinery has drawn a map to.

“The first stepping stone of the refinery to low carbon is energy efficiency,” De Muynck says. “We’re the top refinery in Europe for energy efficiency. It continues to improve and we are constantly finding ways to be even sharper on energy consumption for the cost of goods. We have a good ranking for CO2 and positioning in the Emissions Trading System.”

As well as energy efficiency, Zeeland Refinery is also looking into energy sources.

“The next stepping-stone is that we have been putting together the first industrial solar farm in the Netherlands. That was put in place in June 2018,” De Muynck tells us. “Based on our knowledge of how to produce and deal with hydrogen, we are well-positioned to go into low carbon production today, by implementing CCS.”

Other landmarks on Zeeland Refinery’s route map include the production of blue hydrogen and green hydrogen.

“We are developing these under project codenames, Azure for blue hydrogen, while the green hydrogen codename is H Zero,” says De Muynck. “We are working with Air Liquide Engineering & Construction on carbon capture technology, and collaborating with regional partners on capturing CO2 towards a common shared logistical and storage project. We’re building on this combination of blue hydrogen, green hydrogen, renewable electricity electrolysers, and hydrogen production.”

Zeeland Refinery is working on one of the 50 electrolysers that are positioned to be recognised by Europe as one of the flagship hydrogen projects over the coming years.

“We foresee a link-up between this hydrogen and the refinery and renewables of non-biological origin,” De Muynck says.

Of course, while the ethical and environmental cases for blue and green hydrogen are easy to make, Zeeland Refinery is ultimately a business and needs to make a business case for pursuing these goals.

“Whilst EU-ETS prices are up to historical heights, there is still a gap in cost in making blue or green hydrogen,” De Muynck admits. That gap is to be closed by public support.

There are also, naturally, technical challenges to overcome.

“The plants we’re envisaging will drive the transformation of the industry,” De Muynck explains. “We already have a ramp-up scheme in mind but today a vast amount of technology requires big steps in development. Huge steps are being taken. We have to find good technology to achieve that. CCS technology that is mature enough, but the devil is in the details. We need an innovative capture technology that will maximize the volume of truly avoided CO2 to atmosphere and this requires thorough engineering follow through. The same thing is true of green hydrogen. There is production capacity announced to be put in place, and you need to figure out how you can integrate that as best as you can into a system.”

The Early Bird

Zeeland Refiner is not the only company seeking out this new, greener future. Ironically, that means that competition for the resources needed to drive that greener future are highly sought after, and competition for them is fierce.

“We see many companies going into this sector, so there will be competition for resources,” De Muynck says. “It will be a stretch on contractors, engineers and production resources. Early movers will have the advantage.  That’s the card that we have played.”

The refinery employs over 400 people, half of whom work five shifts. Despite its size, in many ways Zeeland Refinery is a close-knit family, providing room for its people to educate and develop themselves. This means that it is easy for Zeeland Refinery to demonstrate the values that will attract the next generation of talent.

“If you don’t show the young guys that you are from the oil and gas topology but also that you are taking the next step they won’t come,” De Muynck says. “There’s just not much interest in classical oil and gas.”

As well as standard recruitment, this level of competition is also crucial in drawing in contractors.

“With everything that is being announced it will be a stretch to get contractors in. We are early movers so that gives us an edge, and we are hoping the global market will bring in the people that we need. Europe is investing in infrastructure, and the US as well, so there will be a stretch on contractors,” De Muynck explains. “You need to show people you have an attractive and motivating company. We’ve been very successful to date in getting people motivated to join and work for us.”

As De Muynck points out, being an early entrant into the market has given Zeeland Refinery a crucial head start in its transformation. There are other challenges ahead.

“If everything goes well and we get the funding that we aim for by the middle of the decade we will be leading in the low carbon energy sector,” De Muynck says. “By end of the decade, we would ideally have an agreement on CCU-type activity adjacent to that. We’ll be retrofitting our existing units into waste plastic upgrading or waste upgrading facilities to serve the transport, mobility and chemical industries.”

It is going to be the start of an exciting new era for the company.

 

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