Scaling up green hydrogen and production

Green hydrogen is a growing industry with a lot of potential for manufacturers as an effective and clean energy source, but there are challenges ahead.

By Rob Lindquist May 30, 2023
Courtesy: Emerson


Learning Objectives

  • Learn about the rise of the green hydrogen industry as an alternative fuel source.
  • Understand green hydrogen’s benefits and current limitations as a fuel source.
  • Discover how digital transformation and other technologies can help the industry break through and benefit manufacturers.

Hydrogen insights

  • Green hydrogen is a new industry and not mature yet, but there are many companies looking to harness and improve the technology to make economically viable and profitable.
  • Digital transformation and other technologies can help this process along, but the companies looking to invest will benefit most from working with a specialist who knows the technology.

Green hydrogen is one of the most promising alternative fuel sources. There has been tremendous global investment in green hydrogen technology as the zero-emissions fuel source is a path to decarbonization. With many well-funded projects in the works, the green hydrogen industry is well-positioned to grow.

Success will depend on reliability across the entire supply chain from production to storage and transportation to dispensing. The future of safe, efficient green hydrogen can become reality with the right solutions and processes in place today.

A promising alternative fuel

Green hydrogen is attractive as an alternative source of energy because it can provide sufficient and reliable power with zero emissions. Countries have developed policies, programs and projects to accelerate green hydrogen production and use. Many governments have developed hydrogen road maps and are setting ambitious targets. Energy companies are responding by making investments in large-scale green hydrogen projects.

Many of these projects are large and ambitious, and the infrastructure and processes still need to be built. Although scale-up is a challenge, there are technological and digital transformation solutions that have already been proven in related applications and industries, including the greater hydrogen industry. These established solutions can help solve many of the challenges companies face across the value chain.

Scaling up hydrogen production with electrolysis

The process of producing hydrogen using water and electricity is called electrolysis. Electricity breaks water down into its base elements, hydrogen and oxygen, in a unit called an electrolyzer. These electrolyzers can range in size from small devices to large-scale, central production facilities. For example, skid electrolyzers can be placed outside of factories to replace public utility electricity, or they can be used to power entire communities. By combining electrolytic cells and stacks, green hydrogen production can be scaled according to the application’s needs.

However, within the great advantages of scalable clean energy lie a few challenges. R&D efforts are being made to increase electrolyzer system efficiency overall, as well as electrolyzer operating life, power density and stack size. These improvements will reduce material costs and lead to more flexible systems adapted to intermittent and fluctuating power supplies.

Because of the great scalability of electrolyzers, manufacturers need to consider how they access the components necessary for the full range of electrolyzer sizes.

Hydrogen’s nature adds even more complexity because there are severe consequences if it’s handled improperly. Electrolyzer components need to be reliable and built for hazardous environments to keep people and property safe.

Figure 1: Existing, proven technologies can benefit the entire hydrogen value chain, from the electrolyzer to the fueling station. Courtesy: Emerson

Figure 1: Existing, proven technologies can benefit the entire hydrogen value chain, from the electrolyzer to the fueling station. Courtesy: Emerson

Working with a technology supplier that has an extensive portfolio specifically designed for hydrogen applications can simplify the supply chain, saving time and money. And, in many cases, it can be much easier to work with one supplier with a complete portfolio, especially as companies scale their production. This frees up equipment manufacturers and producers to focus on developing and delivering their products.

It’s important to work with an expert supplier equipped with a wide range of measurement, control and electrical equipment specifically designed to improve reliability and safety in the hazardous areas of electrolyzers. In addition to valves, valve systems, flow meters, regulators and pressure transmitters, they should also have smart technologies, such as scalable process control and safety solutions that can reduce operational complexity, lower risk and improve the performance of green hydrogen facilities, from electrolyzers to balance of plant (BoP) assets, while providing sitewide safety system capabilities. An integrated control and safety system (ICSS) is also a critical tool to ensure optimized start/stop sequencing with embedded sequence diagnostics.

Converting, storing and transporting green hydrogen

Before hydrogen can be used for power, it has to be converted, stored or transported. With pressures of up to 15,000 psi in the value chain, hydrogen must be effectively controlled. There can’t be any inboard or outboard leaks due to integrity issues with static or dynamic seals. Even some metals can be negatively affected by prolonged exposure to H2, a process called hydrogen embrittlement. There also are risk assessments and strict regulations to meet.

Working with hydrogen requires serious, dependable control to ensure systems operate safely. Companies need to know they don’t have any loss across their systems, and they need to know how much hydrogen is passing through any transmission/transfer points. Integrating components that monitor and measure hydrogen into systems is essential.

Every system includes certain final control elements (FCEs), such as shut-off and metering valves, high-pressure regulators, pneumatic actuators and solenoid valves. Reliable, high-quality control and safety circuits provide the precision necessary to maintain appropriate pressure and flow rates and preserve hydrogen purity and can be monitored remotely. Sensors should be integrated to monitor pressure, temperature and flow rates. If smart equipment is used, data can be collected to improve productivity and ensure high operational yields.

This also is where it’s important to have a supplier with a complete portfolio. What’s even more important is working with partners with extensive hydrogen experience and expertise, familiar with the regulations and certifications. They understand the plantwide ecosystem and have the safety and controls equipment needed to monitor, measure and control hydrogen effectively and efficiently. They also should have the flexibility to address many designs and applications.

Figure 2: The TESCOM HV-3500 Series Hydrogen Onboard Regulator provides consistent pressure and continuous flow, maximizing fuel cell efficiency in industrial and commercial light and heavy-duty hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Courtesy: Emerson

Figure 2: The TESCOM HV-3500 Series Hydrogen Onboard Regulator provides consistent pressure and continuous flow, maximizing fuel cell efficiency in industrial and commercial light and heavy-duty hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Courtesy: Emerson

Accurately dispensing fuel

A key element of the transition to hydrogen-powered vehicles is the fuel cell. Fuel cell power systems can be used to power passenger cars, commercial vehicles and more.

For fuel cells, that portfolio should include high-reliability flow control, pressure regulators, safety junction boxes and flameproof cable glands. Designs should be compact and lightweight to enable manufacturers to create systems with high-power density and extended cell life. Manufacturers can lower risk of fuel cell system failure with solutions that provide stable pressure regulation, safe distribution and equipment connectivity.

Drivers will need to fuel hydrogen-powered vehicles as they populate the road. As fueling stations transition to green hydrogen, they face several challenges, such as sustainability, safety and maintenance. First, there’s the concern of accurately monitoring the hydrogen flow to ensure customers dispense the right amount of fuel, every time, quickly and safely. Accurately maintaining the condition of fueling stations and their critical components can ensure stations are available for users at any given time, whether they’re deployed in dense or remote areas. Fueling station equipment can leverage digital transformation to solve some of these critical challenges.

Starting at the device level, smart sensor technology and the data it provides can lay the foundation on which digital transformation is built. Building on this foundation, utilizing a programmable logic controller (PLC) with integrated edge gateway capabilities can provide complete control and turn aggregated data into real-time information/analytics of the fuel-dispensing process or the condition of the system itself.

The power of digital transformation can be scaled beyond to a vast network of fueling stations. Information can be aggregated to help optimize the entire network. Dispensing accurate fuel volumes at the highest flow rates as well as reducing the probability of leaks and monitoring the condition of the fueling station helps ensure operation and optimal yield.

The PLC, combined with an edge gateway, also can perform analysis and visualization of diagnostic and process data. Providing this to the fuel station operator and remotely to the hydrogen supplier helps simplify supply chain logistics. Having remote access to filling rates and preventive maintenance information means hydrogen suppliers are filling tanks only when necessary and providing maintenance only when needed.

From storage tanks to tube trailers to dispensers, fueling station systems must also be safe and easy to maintain, as well as meet the highest performance and regulatory standards. And as we’ve seen throughout the value chain, hydrogen’s explosive nature must be taken into consideration.

To protect personnel, customers and property, ultrasonic gas leak detection systems continuously monitor fueling stations for ultrasound generated from the release of pressurized gas. Pressure transmitters designed for high-pressure measurement and flow meters specifically designed for hydrogen-dispensing applications can accurately measure pressure and gas flow. Connecting these devices that monitor critical parameters to a higher-layer gateway can be used to deliver real-time warnings and alerts to staff on, providing further safety enhancements.

Figure 3: ASCO, Rosemount and TESCOM components are used for measurement and control processes in the production, storage, transportation and dispensing of hydrogen fuel. Courtesy: Emerson

Figure 3: ASCO, Rosemount and TESCOM components are used for measurement and control processes in the production, storage, transportation and dispensing of hydrogen fuel. Courtesy: Emerson

Going farther, faster

Building the infrastructure and processes needed to transition to green hydrogen requires a partner who can support companies at each stage of their scale-up. Taking a scalable approach will reduce risk while making meaningful progress.

Because green hydrogen is still a relatively new business, companies must rely on partners with broad knowledge and expertise that have already proven themselves in the hydrogen industry, from production and storage to conversion, transportation and mobility. These expert partners already know the regulations and certifications needed and how they change depending on region. And they likely already have a physical presence to manufacture close to customers and their markets.

Ensuring sustainable success

Green hydrogen is clean and efficient, but building the infrastructure, controlling the gas and making it available for consumption requires expertise. Companies are better equipped to forge ahead if they partner with a specialist that already has a strong presence and relevant experience, holds deep industry and regulatory knowledge and can provide the needed solutions. This strategic partnership will give them a strong position and long-lasting competitive advantage as they make the promising future of green hydrogen a reality.

Author Bio: Rob Lindquist is director of global marketing at Emerson.