ExxonMobil using integrated approach on path to decarbonize downstream

May 1, 2023
ExxonMobil is investing about $17 billion through 2027 on lower-emission initiatives that aim to reduce emissions in its operations but are also directed at reducing others’ emissions through commercializing and scaling CCS, hydrogen, and biofuels.

In line with ExxonMobil Corp.’s plan to cut corporate-wide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions intensity (Scope 1 and 2) by 2030 compared with 2016, ExxonMobil is investing about $17 billion through 2027 on lower-emission initiatives that aim to reduce emissions in its operations but are also directed at reducing others’ emissions through commercializing and scaling carbon capture and storage (CCS), hydrogen, and biofuels.

Alongside providing a brief overview of ExxonMobil’s broader strategy to address the challenge of strengthening energy supply security and reducing emissions to support a net-zero future, this article details a selection of downstream projects the company is moving into execution phase that intend to lay the groundwork for the company’s achieving its 2050 net-zero goals.

Multifaceted approach

ExxonMobil’s strategy focuses on improving costs by leveraging technology, scale, and integration to create regional emission-reduction markets. Acknowledging different industries will require different solutions to make meaningful progress on emissions-reduction efforts, in 2021 ExxonMobil created ExxonMobil Low Carbon Solutions (LCS), to help accelerate net-zero goals by focusing on the hardest-to-decarbonize sectors—including heavy industry, commercial transportation, and power generation—which together account for 80% of global energy-related carbon-dioxide (CO2) emissions. Reducing emissions in these sectors will be key to meeting society’s climate goals.

While ExxonMobil’s currently planned global projects could abate about 20 million tonnes/year (tpy) of CO2, LCS’ existing pipeline of potential new projects—subject to final investment decision (FID)—could abate nearly four times as much. Still at various stages of implementation, and with some awaiting FID, these foundational projects—projects that work with today’s policy, technology, and infrastructure—focus on scaling up capabilities for CCS and the next generation of industrial fuels, such as hydrogen and renewables, to help industries, including ExxonMobil’s own operations, achieve emissions-reduction goals while continuing to meet demand for essential products. The company will spend a little less than $2 billion in 2023 on such projects and—boosted in part by incentives provided by the US Inflation Reduction Act—will grow that number to about $3 billion in 2025 and nearly $6 billion in 2027 (OGJ Online, Dec. 8, 2022).

ExxonMobil will continue to develop and implement its own proprietary technologies in these projects but also intends to purchase or license that technology from existing, established vendors.

Blue hydrogen, CCS

ExxonMobil LCS is undertaking preliminary site works for a proposed grassroots low-carbon hydrogen production plant and CCS plant at its 565,000-b/d integrated refining and petrochemical complex in Baytown, Tex., along the Houston Ship Channel (Fig. 1, 5).

Part of the company’s strategy to reduce emissions from its own and local industry operations, the proposed Baytown hydrogen, ammonia, and CCS plant would be equipped to produce up to 1 bcfd of blue hydrogen, hydrogen produced from natural gas and supported by CCS. Related CCS infrastructure to be built as part of the project would give the Baytown complex the capability to transport and store up to 10 million tpy, while use of the project’s produced hydrogen as a fuel at the Baytown olefins plant could reduce the integrated complex’s CO2 emissions 30%.

ExxonMobil will make surplus volumes of hydrogen and ammonia, as well as CO2 storage capacity, available to nearby industry.

The Baytown project will be ExxonMobil’s initial contribution to a broad, cross-industry effort to establish a Houston CCS hub with an initial target of about 50 million tpy of CO2 by 2030, and 100 million tpy by 2040.

In early 2023, the company enlisted Topsoe AS and Honeywell UOP LLC to deliver critical technologies for the proposed project. Haldor will license its proprietary SynCOR hydrogen technology that—based on advanced autothermal reforming principles—will enable the complex to produce blue hydrogen by converting natural gas into hydrogen and CO2 in the presence of steam. As technology integrator, Topsoe’s scope of work on the project includes guaranteeing the carbon intensity of both the hydrogen produced and carbon captured at the integrated low-carbon complex.

Working alongside Topsoe, Honeywell UOP will provide its proprietary CO2 fractionation and hydrogen purification system for the proposed complex’s capture of about 7 million tpy of CO2—equivalent to more than 98% of the site’s annual associated CO2 emissions—for subsequent sequestration and permanent storage underground.

While FID on the project—which includes a port for ammonia exports—is not scheduled until 2024, ExxonMobil already is seeing built-in demand for about half of its output, both from local hydrogen and fuel switching markets and as ammonia for export. The latter includes a February 2023 heads of agreement with SK Inc. Materials, under which the South Korean compnay will offtake blue ammonia produced by the Baytown project.

Discussions remain ongoing with other new and existing third-party customers—particularly from ExxonMobil’s LNG value chain—for offtake agreements from the project that, if approved, would start up in 2027-28.

ExxonMobil is also collaborating with EnLink Midstream LLC and fertilizer manufacturing company CF Industries Holdings Inc. to store as much as 2 million tpy of industrial CO2 emissions in first-of-its-kind CCS project in Louisiana (Fig. 2). Emissions from CF Industries’ Ascension Parish, La., complex will be transported through EnLink’s transportation network and stored underground at a 125,000-acre property ExxonMobil owns in Vermilion Parish, about 100 miles southwest of CF’s complex, beginning in 2025. Adjacent to its 523,000-b/d integrated refining and petrochemical complex in Baton Rouge, future integration prospects between the two sites remain possible, particularly in biofuels and direct air-capture.


With transportation accounting for 23% of the global energy-related CO2 emissions—and, of that 23%, heavy transportation (trucking, aviation, shipping, and rail) making up more than half—ExxonMobil also is exploring lower-emission fuel options that, in addition to renewable fuels, include second-generation biofuels and synthetic fuels created by using hydrogen and captured CO2 to form methanol.

In January 2023, ExxonMobil’s majority owned affiliate Imperial Oil Ltd. reached positive FID to build a grassroots renewable diesel production complex at its 196,000-b/d Strathcona refinery near Edmonton, Alta., in western Canada (Fig. 3).

At an estimated investment of about $560 million, the renewable diesel project will include construction of a new complex that combines blue hydrogen, locally sourced renewable feedstocks, and a proprietary catalyst to produce more than 1 billion l./year (roughly 20,000 b/d) of low-carbon, renewable diesel for supply to British Columbia’s transportation sector and for reuse by the refinery.

Still awaiting final regulatory approval but with site preparation and initial construction works already under way, Strathcona refinery’s renewable diesel production—which could help reduce overall GHG emissions in Canada’s transportation sector by about 3 million tpy—is planned for startup in 2025.

Fluor Corp. is delivering front-end engineering and detailed design (FEED) and engineering and procurement (EP) for the project, while Air Products Inc. will supply low-carbon hydrogen.

The Strathcona renewable diesel complex will be the largest of its kind in Canada upon completion. The government of British Columbia is supporting it in the form of credits under its provincial low-carbon fuel standard.

ExxonMobil is conducting trials in other existing refineries using proprietary technology that enables coprocessing of bio-based feedstock in existing fluid catalytic crackers or hydrotreaters, which could allow for faster production and delivery of lower-emission transportation fuels compared with construction of new plants that would require large capital investments. The company is also evaluating opportunities to lower life-cycle emissions through conversion of bio-based feedstocks for diesel production with processes ExxonMobil has developed using a proprietary dewaxing catalyst that allows conversion of waste fats or vegetable oils into renewable fuels with less byproduct formation and hydrogen consumption than other methods.

In June 2022, ExxonMobil announced a new technology that can produce sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) using a feedstock of renewable methanol (Fig. 4). This methanol has a lower carbon intensity and can be made through either gasification of biomass, such as wood waste, or electrolysis of water using renewable electricity to produce hydrogen and captured CO2.