Essar, Unilever and Pilkington secure £13m for hydrogen projects

Government funding will see the building of UK’s first low carbon energy plant at Essar in Stanlow and live trials of hydrogen fuelling at Unilever in Port Sunlight and Pilkington in St Helens. Tony McDonough reports

Essar Oil UK’s Stanlow oil refinery in Ellesmere Port


Essar Oil UK has secured £7.5m from the Government to develop the UK’s first low carbon energy plant at its Stanlow refinery in Ellesmere Port.

And Unilever’s manufacturing plant at Port Sunlight and Pilkington’s Greengate Works glass-making plant in St Helens have secured a further £5.2m to fund live trials of hydrogen fuelling at both locations.

Both of the projects, being funded by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), here being led by the HyNet consortium and developer Progressive Energy.

At Essar Oil UK the low carbon energy plant will produce 3TWh of low carbon hydrogen – double the UK’s total current production of biomethane – which will be provided to industrial and eventually domestic customers in the region.

It will involve Johnson Matthey as technology provider, SNC-Lavalin as project delivery specialists and Essar Oil UK as owner and operator. The facility will deliver low cost, low carbon hydrogen at scale and high efficiency, and with a very high carbon capture rate.

More than 95% of the carbon used in the process will be captured and stored, thanks to the pioneering carbon capture technology. When operational, the facility will capture 600,000 tonnes of CO2 per annum – the equivalent of taking more than 250,000 cars off the road.

Unilever and Pilkington will see live trials of hydrogen fuelling


Hydrogen will be distributed by way of a new pipeline network under development by Cadent, which will also provide the pathway for renewable hydrogen once costs come down in the future. The funding will also deliver the Front-End Engineering Design (FEED) of the plant, providing a reference design for the facility to be replicated across the UK and internationally.

In St Helens, the use of hydrogen in the glass-making process will be a global first, while the demonstration at Unilever’s Port Sunlight will be the first meaningful use of hydrogen in a commercial scale boiler.

The project also includes a FEED study for a new 100% hydrogen-fired combined heat and power (CHP) plant, using gas turbines, at Essar’s Stanlow refinery. Evidence from the demonstrations will pave the way for conversion to low carbon hydrogen across a range of global industries.

The projects will aim to demonstrate that hydrogen can be used as a substitute fuel for natural gas in manufacturing processes, helping the companies’ transition to a low-carbon future and leading the way for others to follow.

Mark Wilson, chief executive at Essar Oil UK, said: “We are excited to be part of this initiative and believe we have the facilities and technological skills to help deliver the project.

“The construction of the hydrogen facility at Stanlow is the first stage in becoming a carbon neutral site and will support our long term ambition of remaining a key national supplier of energy to the UK as we move towards a zero carbon world.”

And Sebastian Munden, general manager of Unilever UK and Ireland, added: “Unilever has a clear ambition of being a carbon neutral company by 2030, and we’re committed to playing our part and doing what we can to help the wider industry move further faster.

“We already have five carbon neutral sites in the UK, and have been able to reduce our manufacturing carbon footprint by two thirds. The success of this Port Sunlight trial would mean Unilever is able to deliver home and personal care products to our consumers with an even smaller carbon footprint, which we know is of great importance to them.”

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