Essar advances decarbonization program for Stanlow refinery

Feb. 13, 2024
Essar Energy Transition is advancing a program to transform Essar Oil (UK) Ltd.’s 10-million tpy Stanlow integrated refining complex at Ellesmere Port, Cheshire County, England, into the world’s first low-carbon refinery.

Essar Energy Transition (EET)—part of the energy portfolio of Mumbai-based Essar Global Fund Ltd. (Essar)—is advancing a program to transform Essar Oil (UK) Ltd.’s 10-million tonne/year (tpy) Stanlow integrated refining complex at Ellesmere Port, Cheshire County, England, between Liverpool and Manchester, into the world’s first low-carbon refinery.

To be carried out in partnership with other Essar portfolio companies as a core element of the HyNet North West project at Liverpool Bay—one of the UK government’s Track-1 carbon capture, utilization, and sequestration (CCUS) clusters for regional industrial decarbonization—the program involves a series of incremental and interrelated projects to be executed at and around the Stanlow refinery, including Essar-owned Stanlow Terminals Ltd.’s nearby bulk-liquid storage terminal, the UK’s largest (OGJ Online, Feb. 9, 2022).

Part of Essar’s broader decarbonization plan to achieve net-zero emissions across operations by 2040 in line with UK regulatory and policy supporting supply of cleaner energy sources, the company’s proposed multiyear investments at Stanlow collectively aim to establish an integrated energy transition hub capable of producing and delivering low-cost, low-carbon energies while reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions across northwest England and North Wales.

In addition to presenting an overview of the Stanlow decarbonization plan, this article outlines Essar’s selection of technologies for various project components and updates the program’s status.

Stanlow decarbonization program

Officially under development and direction by EET—a portfolio company Essar created in February 2023 specifically to execute initiatives designed to reposition the company’s businesses in the UK and India for continued growth in a low-carbon future—the Stanlow transformation program includes an overall $2.4-billion investment on a series of energy transition projects to be carried out across Stanlow operations during the next 5 years.

Intended primarily to establish northwest England as one of Europe’s leading post-carbon industrial clusters and accelerate the UK’s broader low-carbon transformation in support of the government’s 2050 target for achieving carbon neutrality, program investments will cover:

  • Developing and implementing new low-carbon hydrogen technologies to help meet the UK’s goal of achieving a 10-Gw production rate for blue and green hydrogen by 2030.
  • Developing low-carbon hydrogen infrastructure.
  • Decarbonizing existing operations of the Stanlow refinery (Fig. 1).
  • Growing production of biofuels for road and air transportation.

Aimed at reducing about 20% of northwest England’s industrial emissions across the next 5 years, EET is responsible for overseeing the program’s investments on individual but related projects for:

  • Essar Oil UK, which intends to become a global benchmark for green refineries via its implementation of a three-part decarbonization plan to incrementally reduce CO2 emissions from the Stanlow refinery to net zero by 2040.
  • Vertex Hydrogen Ltd., a joint venture between Essar Oil UK (90%) and Progressive Energy Ltd. (10%), which—as part of HyNet—is developing the UK’s first CCUS hydrogen production hub at Stanlow to capture about 1.8 million tpy of CO2 from the site’s operations and supply 1 Gw of blue hydrogen for the UK market.
  • Stanlow Terminals Ltd., which plans to deliver the UK’s largest biofuels storage hub at its terminal colocated at Essar’s combined 770-hectare Stanlow site in Ellesmere Port. Scheduled for development during the next 3 years at Stanlow complex and nearby Tranmere terminal, the expansion will include 300,000 cu m of capacity for blending, storing, and importing biofuels such as sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO; green diesel), and waste-based feedstocks (Fig. 2).
  • EET Biofuels, which is partnering with Fulcrum BioEnergy Inc. subsidiary Fulcrum BioEnergy Ltd., to build a grassroots £600-million ($835-million) waste-to-sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) production plant at Essar’s Stanlow site that—beginning first-quarter 2027—will convert 600,000 tpy of residual waste into about 80,000 tpy of SAF for delivery along an existing pipeline to the Manchester airport and other UK regional airports (including Liverpool) via Stanlow Terminals’ operations (Fig. 3). The biofuels division is also developing partnerships to explore production of 500,000 tpy of sustainable HVO at Stanlow based off municipal-waste feedstock sourced from nearby urban hubs.

Stanlow refinery transformation

EET has dedicated $1.2 billion of its total $2.4-billion Stanlow investment plan specifically to Essar Oil UK’s decarbonization strategy for the Stanlow refinery, which as of yearend 2023 was producing road transportation fuels to meet more than 16% of overall UK demand.

Alongside works to further improve energy efficiency at the site, the refinery’s decarbonization strategy consists of two major projects, the first of which involves installation of Vertex Hydrogen’s £360-million ($430-million), post-combustion, industrial carbon-capture (ICC) plant at the complex’s residue fluid catalytic cracker (RFCC). Due for startup in 2028, the ICC is designed to capture 1 million tpy of the RFCC’s CO2 emissions for subsequent transport to and permanent storage in HyNet’s offshore depleted gas fields in Liverpool Bay.

A second major project entails replacing or upgrading the refinery’s existing furnaces and combined heat and power (CHP) plant to enable operation on low-carbon hydrogen instead of hydrocarbons. Known as the fuel-switching initiative, works included under the project are scheduled to occur in phases between 2024-28, and upon completion, will yield an additional 1-million tpy reduction in site emissions.

As part of this fuel-switching project, Essar Oil UK in 2023 completed installation of a new £45-million ($54-million) fully hydrogen-ready furnace at the Stanlow refinery’s crude distillation plant (Fig. 4). Currently powered by refinery offgas, LPG, and natural gas, the newly added furnace from 2026 will switch over to full operation on feedstock it receives from Vertex Hydrogen’s HyNet CCUS hydrogen production hub. Following the switchover, the hydrogen-ready furnace will replace three of the refinery’s outdated furnaces.

While some fired heaters will only require retrofits to achieve lower emission levels, once on stream, available hydrogen supplies from Vertex Hydrogen between 2026-28 will enable Essar Oil UK to switch remaining fired heaters to hydrogen power, as well as phase out existing CHP modules to bring high-efficiency, hydrogen-ready modules for the associated CHP plant online, according to project documents.

Following switchover of the CHP modules, the refinery—which currently generates its steam and power from the CHP plant’s inefficient steam turbines—will be able to generate power from the newer hydrogen-ready gas turbines.

Combined, the 2-million tpy drop in emissions stemming from the ICC and fuel-switching projects will result in the refinery reducing existing emission levels 95% by 2030 to help achieve its net-zero emissions target by 2040, Essar said.

Selected technologies

Essar has let three confirmable contracts covering licensing of all technologies to be implemented for Vertex Hydrogen’s Stanlow ICC plant.

As part of a contract awarded in January 2024, Elessent Clean Technologies Inc. subsidiary Belco Technologies Corp. will deliver licensing of its proprietary technology for conditioning of the ICC plant’s feed gas. The Belco scrubbing system will clean and condition flue-gas streams ahead of their entrance into the carbon-capture unit. Alongside helping reduce plot space required for the proposed ICC plant, the feed-gas conditioning system will integrate Essar Oil UK’s selection of other critical technologies for the plant aimed at abatement of sulfur oxides (SOx) and particulate matter.

In December 2023, Essar Oil UK let a contract to Topsoe AS for licensing of its proprietary SNOx sustainable flue-gas treatment technology for the refinery’s ICC plant. The service provider, however, revealed no further details regarding its scope of delivery under the agreement.

In November 2023, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. (MHI) said it will license its proprietary CO2 technology for the Stanlow ICC plant. MHI’s scope of work on the project covers delivery of the plant’s basic engineering design package based on the Advanced Kansai Mitsubishi Carbon Dioxide Recovery process, a CO2-capture technology codeveloped by MHI and Kansai Electric Power Co. Inc. The contract includes supply of the associated KS-21 solvent to enhance the technology package’s regeneration efficiency and reduces deterioration to support lower operating costs and decreased amine emissions.


On Jan. 11, 2024, Cheshire West & Chester Council approved EET’s plans for Vertex Hydrogen to proceed with the first of two large-scale, low-carbon hydrogen production plants (HPP1, HPP2) at the Stanlow complex.

Together, HPP1 and HPP2 will enable local industrial and power-generation businesses to replace fossil fuels with a low-carbon energy source to help reduce northwest UK’s carbon emissions by a revised estimate of 2.5 million tpy, the equivalent of taking 1.1 million cars off the roads, Essar said.

Hydrogen produced at the hub will be used locally by Essar Oil UK’s refinery and other major manufacturers in the region—including Tata Chemicals Ltd., Encirc Ltd., and Pilkington United Kingdom Ltd.—to establish the first low-carbon refining, chemical production, and glass manufacturing site in the world.

Slated for phased development, the hydrogen hub will house EET’s 350-Mw HPP1 and 1-Gw HPP2, with an overall targeted production capacity by 2030 of 4 Gw+, or about 40% of the UK government’s total goal.

Essar said it expects to begin construction this year on HPP1 for an anticipated start of production in 2027.

The operator has yet to confirm official details regarding other elements of EET’s broader decarbonization plans for Stanlow.