Chinese petrochemical group Sinopec has started building what it claims will be the world’s largest solar-to-hydrogen project with an aim to produce 20,000 tonnes of renewable H2 a year by mid-2023.

Sinopec will spend $470m constructing the electrolyser facility served by a 300MW PV plant in Xinjiang, northwest China, complete with storage and transport pipelines to serve the hydrogen needs of the group’s own chemical operations – currently met by fossil-based H2.

Sinopec does not specify the size of its electrolyser, but the project would dwarf earlier plants linking solar to hydrogen electrolysis, such as the 20MW PV array with a 10MW electrolyser in Fukushima, Japan, which began operations in March 2020.

The Sinopec facility would also be among the largest projects operating globally until a wave of promised gigawatt-scale green H2 plants start to enter service in the second half of the decade in the Middle East and Australia, as well as elsewhere in China. Recharge revealed this month how a plant in Egypt aims to tap renewable grid power to produce H2 from a 100MW electrolyser by the end of next year.

Sinopec – already China’s largest hydrogen producer – earlier this year unveiled plans to hit 500,000 tonnes per annum of green hydrogen production by 2025, compared with its current output of 3.9 million tonnes of the grey variety from unabated fossil fuels.

Sinopec president Ma Yongsheng said: "Hydrogen energy is one of the sources of clean energy that has the most potential for development. This pilot project gives full play to Xinjiang's advantage in its wealth of resources and is a key project for Sinopec to build a number-one hydrogen energy company.”

China’s hydrogen industry body, which is supported and supervised by the government, is calling on Beijing to “strive” to install 100GW of green hydrogen electrolysers by 2030.

Sinopec made great play of the all-Chinese credentials of the project in a statement announcing the Xinjiang venture, saying all major components would be from domestic producers, including the facility’s 210,000 standard-cubic-metre storage tank and pipelines with the capacity to ship 28,000scm per hour.