In a development as large as Air Liquide’s hydrogen production unit in Bécancour, Canada, which features what is claimed to be the world’s largest proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolyzer in operation in the world, it is imperative that high quality measurement and control technology is used throughout the site to ensure only high-purity hydrogen gas is produced and distributed.
Such technology is exactly what Québec, Canada-based LDetek has supplied to the site in the form of its HyDetek system. A crucial piece of instrumentation for Air Liquide, the LDetek technology is currently being used to detect traces of oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide (CO2) in hydrogen produced at the plant.
The gas chromatograph uses argon as carrier gas to help reduce operation costs by a factor of four to five times, compared to similar instruments that use helium. Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, or GC-MS, requires high quality specialty gases for instrument operation and for calibration. Specialty gases are used as carrier gases (helium is most common), collision gases (nitrogen or helium), and can also include reagent gases.
Each carrier gas plays an important role by transporting the sample through the chromatography column into the mass spectrometer. The carrier gas must be inert or at least must not react with the stationary phase in the column. The choice depends on the sample, column, application, and safety requirements, and the choice of carrier gas is also dependent on requirements in terms of separation efficiency and speed – and here, LDetek chooses argon.
A complete rack system featuring a MultiDetek 2 gas analyzer, LDGSS stream selector and accessories to measure different components in hydrogen, the HyDetek system is customizable for a client’s needs in terms of analytes (chemical constituents) to be measured and the scale of measurement required.
No stranger to Air Liquide, LDetek has already provided the industrial gas giant with many different systems for a wide range of gas measurement applications in the past so the Bécancour project only strengthened the duo’s working relationship. Speaking to gasworld in a recent interview, Louis Paradis, CEO of LDetek, explained that the HyDetek system was very interesting for Air Liquide as a complete solution, all integrated with proven technology.
“Quality measurement was important for Air Liquide on this plant,” Paradis explained. “A reliable system and exact capabilities for their needs was required. Since the HyDetek system can measure many components in the low scale with a single system, it was fulfilling Air Liquide’s exact needs. HyDetek also meets the ISO 14687 regulation for the hydrogen fuel quality check. By being the only available unit to measure all components in one system, a complete solution can be provided for the different plants and customers that need to qualify their gas for such specification.”
It was back in February 2019 when Air Liquide unveiled big plans for its already withstanding Bécancour hydrogen production unit. At the time, the company said it was to develop a major 20MW capacity PEM electrolyzer as part of a move to reaffirm its long-term commitment to hydrogen energy markets.
Commissioning of the electrolyzer unit, equipped with Cummins technology, increased the capacity of the complex by 50%, and helps to meet the growing demand for low-carbon hydrogen in North America, for both industrial use and mobility uses. When compared to traditional hydrogen production processes the new unit is avoiding approximately 27,000 tons of CO2 emissions per year.
With construction and installation complete of both the PEM electrolyzer, along with LDetek’s HyDetek system, hydrogen produced at the site is now supplying its targeted markets. Paradis said the system has been fully operational since it was commissioned on the site, and it has been interfaced onto Air Liquide’s control room system. Both LDetek and Air Liquide have said the HyDetek system is running as expected.
On the project, Bertrand Masselot, President and CEO, Air Liquide Canada, added, “In Bécancour, Québec, Air Liquide inaugurated the largest membrane electrolyzer in operation in the world at the end of January 2021. Powered by 99% renewable energy, the new electrolyzer features four distinct units that use PEM technology offering unprecedented production with over 8.2 metric tons of low-carbon hydrogen per day - enough to fuel over 2,000 cars, 16,000 forklifts, 275 buses, or 230 large trucks.
“This impressive breakthrough demonstrates Air Liquide’s ability to roll out promising technological solutions designed to produce low-carbon hydrogen on an industrial scale. The site also includes a test bed for the next generation of electrolyzers under development and is now a satellite of Air Liquide’s Campus Innovation site in Delaware.
“When choosing equipment, technologies and solutions, such as the LDetek technology used in Bécancour, Air Liquide’s assessment includes several criteria, all to ensure safe, reliable and efficient operations. To this day, the performance of the LDetek equipment has proved satisfactory.”
Compact, robust and sensitive
The Air Liquide project is not the first time LDetek has been involved with some of the industrial gas majors. In yet another landmark hydrogen plant development in North America, this time in La Porte, Texas, LDetek has also supplied the HyDetek system to major industrial gas company Air Products. Once fully operational, it is believed the plant will produce approximately 30 tons of liquid hydrogen daily.
As well as majors Air Liquide and Air Products, LDetek has also supported Airgas, an Air Liquide company, Messer and Linde with gas analysis needs, including help with plant expansions and/or analyzer upgrades.
Founded in 2010 by Paradis and Dany Gagné, LDetek has been designing and manufacturing gas chromatographs, online instruments and related accessories for a variety of end markets, including semiconductor, industrial, food and beverage, medical, environmental and specialty gases for quite some time now.
Since 2018, LDetek has been part of Process Sensing Technologies (PST) which has a worldwide footprint to better serve its customer based in terms of sales and support. As for the company’s wider product offering, Paradis continued, “Our [LDetek’s] MultiDetek series offers a compact, robust and sensitive gas chromatograph designed for the industrial needs. It can measure all types of industrial gas and is customisable for the customer needs. LDetek offers the LD8000 series which is an online analyser to measure nitrogen in argon or helium. Primarily used in an air separation unit where argon is produced, there are also many applications such as glove boxes, cryogenic systems and transfill stations.
“Further to that, the LD8000 MG combines different sensor technologies from Processing Sensing Technologies [parent company to LDetek] to measure nitrogen, oxygen, hydrocarbons and water in one device.”
Specifically for the industrial gases market is the company’s Plasma Emission Detector (PED), a sensing technology which covers many applications giving a lot of advantages: selectivity, sensitivity, non-consumable, robust, multiple carrier gas compatibility, multiple components.