Hydrogen, the future?


When hurricane Katrina ploughed into New Orleans, one of the casualties was the major liquid hydrogen plant belonging to Air Products. By coincidence, another Air Products liquid hydrogen plant was shut down due to feedstock supplier problems and the United States was suddenly short of more than 50% of its liquid hydrogen supply.

Most people this would probably assume that the only consequences would be another curtailment of NASA’s activities, that Air Products would have a short-term reduction in revenues and otherwise life would go on. In fact, the repercussions of this loss were much more severe.

Liquid hydrogen in the United States is the backbone of the distribution system that serves small volume, but generally high value-added customers. These customers include the electronics, glass, food, metal finishing and speciality chemicals sectors. Usually hydrogen is delivered to them either as liquid, which is pumped and vaporised to give the required gas flow and pressure or by tube-trailer often from a liquid-based filling system.

To make matters worse there was effectively no spare capacity at any of the major industrial gas companies and many customers were forced to operate at reduced capacity or shut down their operations.

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