The potential of hydrogen to help decarbonize a variety of industries is being realized today. From fuel cell technology for mobility and innovations in gas separation membranes to the production of fertilizers from green ammonia and the expansion and deployment of hydrogen pipeline infrastructure, the global hydrogen market truly it is reinventing itself.
Union gasworld to discuss all things hydrogen were Dr. Moritz Mickler from Linde Engineering, Dr. Jörg Balster from webinar sponsor Evonik, and industrial gases expert Stephen B. Harrison from sbh4 Consulting.
Moritz spoke about the company’s HISELECT demonstration and what it means for the reinvention of hydrogen markets, as well as the methods used by Linde to decarbonize its customers’ processes and products.
“We decided to do this primarily because power companies are a conservative industry and they want to see a plant running and see how it performs for their very specific set of parameters,” Moritz said.
“If you look at the transition to a hydrogen economy, you face challenges along the entire value chain, and among these are producing cheap, low-carbon, high-volume hydrogen and transporting hydrogen.”
To transport hydrogen, separate hydrogen pipelines and networks would have to be built, something that is considered too expensive and time-consuming to do immediately.
“We will most likely have to live for a few years on a mixture of natural gas and hydrogen,” he added.
What else can you expect from Linde Engineering?
“We see a lot of activity around blue and green hydrogen production, and we are commercializing new CO2 separation technologies for both blue hydrogen production and CO2 separation from flue gases in general.”
The company is also undertaking large-scale projects, such as its joint venture with Yara to create a 224-megawatt electrolyser for green ammonia production in Norway.
Blue or green?
Stating that the industry needs to move to green hydrogen “as quickly as possible,” Mortiz added that it will represent the “final level” of a transition to the hydrogen economy.
Due to the necessary development of the electrolyser infrastructure, this expansion could take time.
Cost is also a factor. To produce blue hydrogen, the price is generally around a third of the cost of green hydrogen.
“I see a surge in green hydrogen production that probably won’t be enough in capacity and price increase to provide enough low-carbon energy co-consumers fast enough to overtake blue hydrogen technology,” Moritz revealed.
Having been responsible for the global application technology launch for all SEPURAN gas separation products, since 2016 Balster has overseen the market launch of the most developed SEPURAN products for the helium, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen markets.
Commenting on the role of these technologies in the hydrogen markets, he said: “I think membranes have been used for 50 or so years to recover or separate hydrogen at different prices.”
“At Evonik we are a company of special chemical products, we have a lot of knowledge in polymers. We use our knowledge in polymers to make a very efficient membrane technology.”
“We make a new polymer each time for each different application to have the highest efficiency in the separation process.”
Evonik partnered with Linde to develop a specific technology to separate hydrogen from natural gas.
This technology can be combined with other technologies, such as pressure swing adsorption.
Where else is membrane technology used throughout the value chain?
In addition to its gas separation technology, the company continues to create new innovations, such as a membrane for alkaline membrane electrolyzers to produce hydrogen from electricity to generate green hydrogen.
“With this, Evonik is showing that we really want to be in the hydrogen market. We believe in the hydrogen market and work on the front end to generate green hydrogen and on the back end to get hydrogen out of the gas grid.”
Excited about the potential of hydrogen to help decarbonize the planet, industrial gases expert Harrison discussed the various factors related to the adoption and scale of hydrogen.
“What excites me is achieving planetary health,” he began. “We want to decarbonize, we want to demethanize, we want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
Revealing that hydrogen must be part of the solution, Harrison explained that the gas has been used in a mixture to supply gases with what is known as town gas, adding that its use within pipelines is nothing new.
“There is one major city in the world that still runs on city gas. Hong Kong.”
“Hong Kong runs on city gas with 50% hydrogen in the pipelines,” he said.
City gas is a mixture of hydrogen and other gases. With more than 100 years of use, given the correct technological development of the membranes, the foundations could be laid for the integration of hydrogen in large cities.
Although the signs are for this to be a reality in more cities, security must also be studied.
“When we start putting hydrogen into some steel grades, we can end up with some pretty big problems with hydrogen embrittlement.”
Studies on hydrogen-related embrittlement have been conducted, revealing that the main risks are present when hydrogen is introduced in relative amounts as low as 1%. Despite this, once that 1% is present, the risk does not increase much more when the volume of hydrogen is increased.
“The good news is that once we have 1%, and then 2%, 5%, 20%, 30%, the risk doesn’t really go up that much,” Harrison said.
”The bad news is that the 1% can be quite complicated. If you can deal with the 1%, you can probably deal with a lot more.”
Can blue hydrogen help advance the transition to fully renewable energy?
Blue hydrogen, unlike its produced and renewable cousin, green hydrogen, is produced from natural gas through steam methane reforming (SMR), where natural gas is mixed with very hot steam and a catalyst.
Although not emission-free, Harrison explained how blue hydrogen could help in the transition from fossil fuels to fully renewable energy.
“Is blue hydrogen essential? No. Can you help? Yes probably. It’s a very, very useful tool in the toolkit where other things just aren’t possible.”
To produce green hydrogen, access to renewable energy generation methods, such as wind or solar power, the benefits of which are highly dependent on geography and climate, is essential.
In areas like northern Canada, above the Arctic Circle, where wind turbines can freeze up in the winter and a lack of constant sunlight makes solar power useless, blue hydrogen, which requires natural gas and captures and carbon storage (CCS), is a very realistic alternative.
“The attraction of blue hydrogen in an environment like that is very, very high.”