The ongoing ‘green’ transition has shifted the focus of industry towards more sustainable forms of energy provision, eschewing conventional fossil-based fuels and adopting cleaner alternatives such as green and blue hydrogen.
The potential for hydrogen to help decarbonise an array of industries is being realised today. From fuel cell technology for mobility and innovations in membranes for gas separation to the production of fertiliser from green ammonia and the scale-up and rollout of hydrogen pipeline infrastructure, the global hydrogen market truly is being reimagined.
Joining gasworld to discuss all things hydrogen was Dr. Moritz Mickler of Linde Engineering, Dr. Jörg Balster of webinar sponsor Evonik, and industrial gas expert Stephen B. Harrison of sbh4 Consulting.
Moritz discussed the company’s HISELECT demo and what it means for the reimagination of hydrogen markets, in addition to methods used by Linde to decarbonise its customer’s process and products.
“We decided to this mainly because the energy companies are a conservative industry and they want to see a plant working and see how it performs for their very specific set of parameters,” said Moritz.
“If you look at the transition to a hydrogen economy, you’re facing challenges along the whole value chain and among these, producing the hydrogen cheap, low carbon intensive and in large volumes and transporting the hydrogen.”
To transport hydrogen, separate hydrogen pipe and networks would have to be built, something that is considered too expensive and time consuming to realise right away.
“Most probably, we will have to live for some years with a mix of natural gas and hydrogen,” he added.
What else can be expected from Linde Engineering?
“We see a lot of activity around production of both blue and green hydrogen, and we are commercialising new CO2 separation technologies both for blue hydrogen production as well as for CO2 separation from flue gases in general.”
The company is also conducting large scale projects such as its joint venture with Yara to create a 224 megawatt electrolyser for the production of green ammonia in Norway.
Blue or green?
Stating that industry needs move to green hydrogen ‘as fast as possible’, Mortiz added that it will represent the ’final level’ of a transition to the hydrogen economy.
Due to the necessary development of electrolyser infrastructure, this scale up 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 ramp up of green hydrogen production that will likely not be sufficient in capacity and price improve to provide enough low carbon energy co consumers fast enough to leapfrog the blue hydrogen technology,” revealed Moritz.
Having been responsible for the launch of global application technology for all SEPURAN gas separation products, since 2016 Balster has been overseeing the market launch of the further developed SEPURAN products for the helium, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen markets.
Commenting on the role of these technologies in hydrogen markets, he said, “I hink membranes have been used for more or less 50 years to recover or separate hydrogen from differen pricesses.”
“At Evonik we are a special chemical company, we have a lot of know how in polymers. We use our know how in polymers to make a very efficient membrane technology.”
“We make every time a new polymer for each different application to have the highest efficiency in the separation process.”
Evonik teamed up with Linde to develop technology specifically for separatioing hydrogen from natural gas.
This technology can be combined with other technologies such as pressure swing adsorption.
Where else is the membrane tech used across value chain?
In addition to its gas separation technology, the company is continuing to create new innovations such as a membrane for alkaline membrane electrolysers to produce hydrogen from electricity to make green hydrogen.
“With this Evonik is showing that we really want to be in the hydrogen market. We believe in the hydrogen market and we work on the front end to generate green hydrogen and on the back end to take hydrogen out of the gas grid.”
Enthusing about the potential for hydrogen to help decarbonise the planet, industrial gas expert Harrison discussed the various factors around hydrogen adoption and scaling.
“What I’m excited about is achieving planetary health,” he began. “We want to decarbonise, we want to de-methanise, we want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
Stating that hydrogen must be part of the solution, Harrison explained that the gas has been used in a blend to supply gases with what’s known as town gas, adding that its use within gas pipelines is nothing new.
“There’s one major city in the world still running on town gas. Hong Kong.”
“Hong Kong runs on town gas 50% hydrogen in the pipelines,” he said.
Town gas is a mixture of hydrogen and other gases. Having been used for over 100 years, given the correct technological development in membranes, the groundwork could be set for the integration of hydrogen within major cities.
Although the signs are there to make this a reality in more cities, safety must also be studied.
“When we start putting hydrogen into some grades of steel, we can end up with some pretty big problems with hydrogen embrittlement.”
Studies have been conducted into hydrogen-related embrittlement, revealing that the main risks are present when hydrogen is introduced in relative quantities as low as 1%. Despite this, once that 1% is present, the risk does not increase much more when the hydrogen volume is increased.
”The good new is that once we’ve got 1%, and then 2%, 5%, 20%, 30%, the risk doesn’t actually get much bigger,” commented Harrison.
”The bad news is that the 1% can be quite tricky. If you can cope with 1%, you can probably cope with a lot more.”
Can blue hydrogen help advance the transition to fully renewable energy?
Blue hydrogen, in contrast to its renewably produced and sourced 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 free of emissions, Harrison explained how blue hydrogen could assist in the transition from fossil fuels to fully renewable energy.
“Is blue hydrogen essential? No. Can it help? Yes, probably. It’s a very, very useful tool in the toolkit where other things simply aren’t possible.”
To produce green hydrogen, access to renewable methods of energy generation - such as wind power or solar - is essential, the benefits of which are heavily dependent on geography and climate.
In areas such as Northern Canada - above the Arctic Circle - where wind turbines can be frozen over during winter and the lack of consistent sunlight renders solar energy useless, blue hydrogen, which requires natural gas and carbon capture and storage (CCS), is a very realistic alternative.
“The attraction of blue hydrogen in an environment like that is very, very high.”