The British Compressed Gases Association (BCGA)’s 2022 conference marked the organisation’s first such event since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Guest speakers discussed a range of topics, including the transport of dangerous goods and how industry can influence change, the potential for anaerobic digestion to provide sustainable energy, hydrogen as a fuel of the future, and industry 4.0 and digitisation.

Taking place at the Marriott Hotel and Country Club in Worsley, Manchester, the event saw over 140 delegates from the compressed gases industry come together for a discussion centred around new developments, technology, and current issues.

Tim Hulbert, BCGA President, opened proceedings by welcoming all attendees.

“It’s great to be able to be back together in the same place again. Many of you will remember that the last time we had an in-person conference actually right here in this room in 2019.”

“I’d really like to thank our sponsors as well and programmes that support and encourage everybody to visit their stalls which are in the room next door during the course of the day.”

Industry collaborations

Working in dangerous goods for transport for 12 years, Helen North leads up the framework and engagements team at the Department for Transport. 

She revealed how changes and improvements are proposed across four main sectors:

1. Industry

2. Enforcement

3. Incident lessons

4. New products/technology.  

With regards to new products and technology, there is constant amendment to reflect changes and innovation.   

“When new articles or products are developed, need to ensure changes are made to ensure safe transport,” said North.  

“There is a massive underreporting of dangerous goods incidents, we need to know about these incidents so we can make things safer for the future.”  

She then went on to lay out the main priorities for the DfT as it endeavours to make transport safer, more efficient, and more sustainable  

Its key areas of focus includes:  

1. Growing and levelling up the economy

2. Improving transport for the user

3. Reducing environmental impact

4. Increasing global impact

5. To be an excellent department  

DfT represents various meetings across a range of transport (dangerous goods) methods including road/rail/inland waterway, rail only, road only, sea only, and air only.  

“An example of this is COSTHA – Increase of the limited quantity volume for Division 2.2 compressed gases without sub risks.”  

“Costa originally came to the subcommittee with this idea in 2002, and so far they’ve had five unsuccessful attempts at making this provision, and they were trying to listen to feedback and then find it on the integrated food. And so they will come back to it long time in the making,” she said.  

Environment  

Carbon capture at green gas plants  

Dr. Kiara Zennaro from the Association for Renewable Energy and Clean Technology (REA) was next up. REA represents anaerobic digestion (AD) and green gases through various forums including green gas, organics, transport fuels, and hydrogen.  

“According to market intelligence, the total UK industrial demand for carbon dioxide (CO2) is around 600,000 tonnes per annum,” revealed Zennaro.  

60% of the gas is supplied by two CF fertiliser factories producing ammonium nitrate, with most of the remaining gas supplied by Nippon’s fertiliser plant in Rotherham (around 45%) and Ensus’ bioethanol plant in Teesside (up to 40%).  

Relating the discussion to CO2 shortages, she reminded attendees of the suspension of production at CF Fertilisers production plant due to rising energy costs in Sept 2021. In response, the UK Government intervened and provided financial support towards the company’s running costs to prevent a food supply shortage.

“When you clean up the biogas generated from AD, you have biomethane and a highly concentrated stream of gas in CO2 that can be captured, liquefied and used in various sectors.”  

There are 11 biomethane plants in the UK that can do this, supplying around 80-90,000 tonnes of bio-CO2 per year to industry (15% of UK demand).  

Explaining the process of biomethane and CO2 capture, Zennaro laid out the procedure.  

Through the AD process biogas is produced, it can then be upgraded to biomethane. CO2 resulting from the process is then compressed, subjected to water removal, gas is fed into reflux condenser, condensed and liquefied before being stored.  

Non condensable gases are then sent back to AD.  

Commenting on biomethane’s potential, she added, “We already have 107 operational biomethane plants in the UK, treating municipal, industrial and agricultural feedstocks.”  

“At least 70 plants could retrofit the technology easily. Industry could currently yield around 500,000 – 600,000 tpa of bio-CO2 which could meet current demand.”  

Before the end of 2025, the green gas support scheme (GGSS) is forecast to support the construction of around 45 new plant with an average biomethane capacity of >750m3/h.  

The Swindon demonstration project converts 1000kg per hour of waste wood or refuse derived fuel in 200kg of green gas and 800kg of CO2.  

90% of bio-CO2 is used in the food and beverage market, although other potential markets include abattoirs and glasshouses.  

What are the barriers to adoption?  

Zennaro revealed that the key barriers include market perception and cost.  

“There is a negative market perception from food and beverage companies”  

“Waste derived CO2 can meet the same spec as non waste CO2”  

Bio-CO2 carbon credits can then be sold to companies that look to offset their carbon emissions.    

Panel discussion – is it high time for hydrogen?

Key industry players, David Hurren - UK CEO of Air Liquide Biogas Solutions Europe, Graham Hodgson - Chairman of NanoSUN Ltd, and Amanda Lyne - Chair of the UK Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association (UKHFCA), took part in a discussion relating to some of the challenges and opportunities presented by the ongoing hydrogen energy transition and supply chain.  

Challenges affecting adoption were stated as: not enough hydrogen refuelling stations and not enough investment to advance hydrogen as a fuel. 

Hodgson revealed that the biggest challenge is around people and skills.

“What we need to do is two things. We’ve got skills in fossil fuels industries, a lot of these skills are transferrable,” he said.

“We also have to go right back to the beginning and focus on STEM skills in schools. The biggest gap in our industry is that there’s not enough experienced people mid-career with experience in high pressure hydrogen.”  

Lyne stated that one of the things the industry is missing is the standards of regulations.   

“We need to be proactive in changing ADR regulations so we can move more hydrogen in tube trailers.”  

“We need to make it commercially safe with regards to health and safety.”  

She emphasised the need for BCGA member companies to help remove such barriers.  

Speed of application development  

Discussing the potential for hydrogen, Hodgson said that there are also applications for hydrogen to be used as heat, also the storage of hydrogen to supplement renewable energy.  

“We need to produce a lot of hydrogen, all colours of hydrogen,” he added.  

“We’re doing it all too slowly at the moment.”  

Responding to a question around hydrogen and safety issues, Lyne said that she believes that safety concerns amongst the public are relatively unfounded.  

Lack of support for hydrogen in the UK  

Hodgson revealed that grants were available before the UK left the EU for research and development and such grants are no longer available.  

“There’s a consensus that hydrogen has potential to deliver net zero,” added Lyne.  

Other countries have been far better at being publicly supporting and putting funding in beyond R&D and supporting the demand side.  

“In Germany there is a network of hydrogen filling stations. 3 or 4 years ago that was seen as an embarrassment.”  

The future  

Industry 4.0 and IoT  

The digitisation of industrial gas equipment has transformed the way companies think of safety, maintenance, and cost. By using IoT technologies, companies are able to increase safety, reduce costs, and reduce maintenance-related downtime. Ashish Chaudhary, UCT – Fluid Solutions spoke about the potential for automation to increase profitability and introduce new revenue streams for business, in addition to the ability for smart (IoT) valves to increase global competitiveness.  

Explaining Industry 4.0, Chaudhary stated that it is the natural progression from Industry 3.0 – revolving around automated production, computers, IT systems and robotics.  

Industry 4.0 – or the fourth industrial revolution – focuses on smart factory autonomous systems, IoT (internet of things) and machine learning.  

“Data is what it’s all about,” he said. “If you’re not collecting data, you’re leaving a lot on the table.”  

“Industry 4.0 is not a big leap from 3.0, but it’s a philosophy.”  

“How do we bring value out of this system? That’s where IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) comes in.”  

Specific examples of IIoT includes the implementation of devices that allow for monitoring of machinery in a plant that informs the operators on whether or not the machinery requires maintenance, or when maintenance is likely. This reduces downtime and costs.  

Commenting on the use of data and sensors, Chaudhary stated that sensors give the ability to produce and record valuable data.  

“Data collection over a period of time allows operators to recognise patterns and these patterns allow preventive – not reactive – maintenance,” he added.  

“If you’re not thinking data, if you’re not thinking digital, you will not survive.”  

This data collection combined with the use of sensors can lead to the introduction of real time remote access and data sharing.  

“This eliminates the need for physically going to a location, enabling you to look at your facility remotely, look at the data that’s coming in and take action.”  

If any irregularities are detected, operations can be quickly and efficiently shut down.  

Use cases for IoT solutions developed by the company includes its high flow manifold application for semiconductor FAB construction when using argon welding.  

Closing remarks made by Hulbert revealed that the dates and location for next year’s conference will not be available until around a month’s time.