Under its company slogan of “a world powered by clean energy,” Xebec Adsorption, Inc. has optimised its H2X range of hydrogen (H2) purification systems after turning its attention to the mounting myriad of industrial and fuel cell applications.
Cited as the most compact, economical and reliable pressure swing adsorption (PSA) systems available today, Xebec’s H2X solutions upgrade H2-containing reformate, petrochemical process gas streams, and refinery off-gas streams into pure and ultra-pure H2.
gasworld spoke exclusively to Xebec’s President and CEO Kurt Sorschak about the logistics behind the range and where he thinks the future H2 economy is heading.
What can you tell gasworld about your gas purification range for H2 and fuel cell applications?
We have been working on our H2 range, H2X, for around 20 years now. The difference is that, until now, we had never pulled together all our products into a single range, which is what we have done because we have seen a significant uptick in activity. Instead of trying to price out a different product each time and customise each one, essentially, we have now standardised the product range.
You could see that we had products for H2 purification, but it wasn’t a range with a specific table that gave you the sizes and performance of each individual unit – that is now there.
As far as I can see, none of our competitors have actually pulled it together like this in a standardised range of H2 purification equipment; I think the market was too small perhaps, maybe with too many industrial applications.
What can you tell me about the technologies behind Xebec’s H2X range?
Our technology is different than most other conventional adsorption technologies in as far as we utilise rotary valves. Our generators use a proprietary technology of rotary valves and a fast cycle, so the cycle times are relatively short compared to a conventional adsorption unit. Because the cycle times are relatively short, the vessels are considerably smaller – up to five times smaller than a conventional PSA system for H2, in fact.
We have not only been working on a smaller footprint but we have also been making it a more efficient product. Efficiency to us at Xebec means better recovery, high purity, small energy consumption, and easier maintenance.
Within the range we have four models, which are actually four of our smallest models as they are particularly compact basically for fuel cell applications. As such, when purification is needed prior to H2 going into the fuel cell, we can purify it in a very compact way – it can simply go into a container or little box.
Now, I think we have a very good standard range of products and I think this is now the base where we can probably cover 90% of all applications with it.
Why is this an area that Xebec is focusing on? Why launch this product now?
We have been talking about fuel cell applications for many years and we all thought by 2000 we would be driving around in fuel cell vehicles – but that didn’t happen! Now, there is a certain uptick in fuel cell applications, in particular on the forklift truck and vehicle sides.
So there is a big drive, especially in forklift trucks, to use more fuel cells instead of going electric. Fuel cells have some significant advantages compared to electric forklift trucks, and if they utilise fuel cells they need H2 to refuel via onsite H2 generation and purification – that’s where we are seeing an uptick for our products. The same is true for fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) – if the refuelling infrastructure is built out with onsite generation, our product is very compact and small so it fits into this niche very nicely too.
How do you think the hydrogen economy will grow in the future?
I can only speak for North America, but I think the situation is pretty similar in other parts of the world. I believe that fuel cell applications in vehicles will not take off significantly up to 2025. It was forecast that around 6,000 FCEVs would be in operation in North America by 2019, so it’s a tiny niche amount but it is going to grow. Essentially, you have to build out the refuelling infrastructure; it takes a lot of time and money, but all the forecasts that I have seen seem to imply that we will have sufficient infrastructure in place to grow the FCEV population at a fast pace by 2025.
This is a play which will go on for the coming decades, but it is clear that the internal combustion engine will be replaced by battery vehicles and by FCEVs.
Finally, what is Xebec working towards?
It’s important to note that we have talked about applications of H2 in clean vehicles, but very often they aren’t clean because of the way the H2 is being produced; either through electrolysis or steam methane reforming, for example. When you calculate the actual carbon footprint of the H2 produced, it is much, much higher than you would expect - almost comparable to a normal gasoline car. It’s surprising.
That is one of the things that the fuel cell industry is struggling with at the moment, is how do you make the H2 clean? One of the big things that Xebec is looking at now is how to produce renewable H2. That is something that we are very interested in and working towards, and that is what I believe the H2 economy needs to move towards – renewable sustainable H2 sources.