With hydrogen’s potential to support the decarbonisation of sectors where emissions are hard to reduce, it’s no surprise that demand for the gas is growing. However, its production and use are not without their challenges. Thankfully, with the right solutions, these challenges can be overcome, as MEPCA found out when it spoke to Danny Nicholas, Business Development Manager – Chemical, Process & Industrial – Hydrogen Equipment, at flow control and instrumentation specialist Rotork.
Mepca: Why are we seeing a growing demand for hydrogen in industry?
Danny Nicholas: There are a number of reasons why we are seeing a growing demand for hydrogen in industry. These include:
Decarbonisation – Hydrogen is a clean-burning fuel that can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. When hydrogen is burned, it produces only water vapour, which does not contribute to climate change. As governments and businesses around the world work to meet their climate goals, hydrogen is becoming an increasingly popular option for decarbonising industrial processes.
For example, hydrogen can be used to replace fossil fuels in the production of steel, ammonia, and other chemicals. This would help to reduce the emissions of these industries, which are major carbon emitters.
New applications – In addition to decarbonisation, hydrogen is also being used in a growing number of new applications. For example, hydrogen fuel cells are being used to power cars, buses, and other vehicles.
Declining costs – Despite the relative cost of hydrogen production remaining high, they are declining over time. This is due to technological improvements and economies of scale. For example, the cost of producing hydrogen from solar and wind power has declined recently.
As the cost of hydrogen continues to decline, it will become more economically competitive with other fuels. This will help to accelerate the adoption of hydrogen as a clean and sustainable energy source.
Energy security – Energy security is a critical area for hydrogen energy, as it provides a clear avenue for the internal production of energy. Hydrogen can be produced from a number of sources, including renewable energy, natural gas, and biomass. This makes it a more secure energy source than fossil fuels, which are subject to price volatility and supply disruptions.
Hydrogen can also be stored and transported more easily than other energy carriers, such as electricity. This makes it a good option for storing energy from renewable sources, which are intermittent in nature.
M: What are the challenges faced in the production, transport, storage and use of hydrogen?
DN: Hydrogen is a promising clean energy source, but there are still some challenges to overcome before it can be widely adopted. These challenges include:
Production – The cost of producing hydrogen is currently high due to the cost of the raw materials and the energy required.
Some methods of hydrogen production also have a significant environmental impact by producing greenhouse gases. There is also a lack of investment in equipment manufacture and the with which products are coming through.
Fine process controls are also required in production, and control systems, in particular, require a high-level safety rating due to the potentially dangerous nature of hydrogen.
Transport – Hydrogen has a number of challenges when it comes to transport. First, hydrogen has a low energy density compared to other fuels, so it takes up a lot of space to transport. This means that hydrogen vehicles would need to be larger than vehicles that use other fuels, which could be a major drawback for consumers.
Second, hydrogen is a flammable gas, so it must be transported carefully to avoid accidents. This could make it difficult to develop a safe and efficient transportation infrastructure for hydrogen.
Finally, hydrogen is often produced in smaller spaces, such as in factories. This means that more compact actuators are required to transport hydrogen safely.
Storage – Hydrogen can be stored in either its gaseous or liquid state. However, both of these states present challenges. In its gaseous state, hydrogen must be stored at high pressure. This can be dangerous, and it also requires special infrastructure to maintain the high pressure. In its liquid state, hydrogen must be stored at extremely low temperatures. This can be costly, and it also requires special infrastructure to maintain the low temperature.
Use – There are also challenges associated with using hydrogen. First, the infrastructure for using hydrogen, such as fuel cells and refuelling stations, is not yet widely available. This means that hydrogen vehicles would not be able to travel as far as vehicles that use other fuels.
Second, the cost of using hydrogen is currently higher than the cost of using other fuels. This is due to the high cost of producing and transporting hydrogen.
Overall, hydrogen has a number of challenges when it comes to transport, storage, and use. These challenges will need to be addressed before hydrogen can become a viable alternative to other fuels.
Mepca: How are these challenges overcome?
DN: Across the key areas already highlighted, solutions from Rotork can contribute to reducing and eliminating the effects of many of the challenges that are present.
Production – Rotork’s solenoid valves and actuators can be used in hydrogen production plants to control the flow of hydrogen and other gases. These products are designed to withstand the high pressures and temperatures involved in hydrogen production, and they can help to improve the efficiency and safety of hydrogen production plants.
Rotork-manufactured actuators are able to accurately control the flow of hydrogen, which is essential for ensuring that the production process is efficient and safe.
A number of Rotork products are ATEX IIC rated, which is essential for environments where hydrogen is present because of its volatility. This rating means that the products have been tested and certified to be safe for use in explosive atmospheres.
Transport – Hydrogen refuelling stations require high-quality flow control equipment to control the flow of hydrogen to fuel cell vehicles. These products are designed to be sealed and to withstand the high pressures involved in hydrogen refuelling, and they can help to ensure that hydrogen is safely transported to fuel cell vehicles.
The valves and actuators are designed to be leak-tight, which prevents hydrogen from escaping during refuelling. They are also designed to withstand the high pressures involved in hydrogen refuelling, which helps to ensure that the refuelling process is safe.
Storage – The safe storage of hydrogen is of critical importance. Actuators need to be designed to be leak-tight and to withstand the high pressures involved in hydrogen storage, and they can help to ensure that hydrogen is safely stored.
Use – Actuators need to be leak-tight and to withstand the high pressures involved in fuel cell operation, and they can help to ensure that hydrogen is safely used in fuel cell vehicles.
In addition to their technical capabilities, Rotork products are also designed to be easy to install and maintain. This is important for hydrogen applications, as the infrastructure for using hydrogen is still in its early stages of development.
The ease of installation and maintenance of Rotork products can help to reduce the cost of using hydrogen, and it can also help to ensure that hydrogen applications are reliable and safe.
Mepca: How do these products work in practice?
DN: In a recent application, CVL process control electric actuators were installed on green hydrogen electrolysis skids for the French equipment manufacturer AREVA H2Gen (now Elogen). The actuators were chosen for their accuracy, fail-safe action, and high-duty cycle.
All Rotork actuators offer the accuracy required for electrolysis, and process control actuators (like the CVL) offer precise modulating control and the repeatability necessary for this application.
Each electrolysis skid has three CVL actuators mounted on globe valves to regulate the pressure and level of the water used for electrolysis. Many of Rotork’s electric actuators offer essential safety certifications, such as ATEX IIC certification, which is critical for environments and sites that use hydrogen.
Of course, safety must always be the paramount concern within hydrogen applications, and Rotork actuators meet this challenge.