The hydrogen produced by the industrial gases sector has long been used in various applications. Everything from industrial products to food packaging, with fertiliser and space travel in-between, benefits from the advantages of the energy carrier hydrogen (H2).
But with the movement to establish a hydrogen economy in top gear, hydrogen production now has a multi-faceted end use – traditional in terms of H2 for industry, and advanced which is the use of the product for energy.
This month's In Focus... will look at both sides of the hydrogen production ‘coin’ as we ask what the growth drivers and technological trends are.
Europe’s CALORIC is one of the leading companies in designing and manufacturing gas generated plants for the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. The company’s Josef Rupprecht, said, “The growth is mainly driven by two major points recognised in the recent years. One part of the market, corresponding to especially small hydrogen capacities below 500 Nm3/h, strongly requests for hydrogen supplied at lowest cost – respectively lowest investment cost. One reason, therefore, is the high share of investment cost for small units related to the cost during operation. The other part of the market, corresponding to mostly larger hydrogen capacities of typically more than 2,000 Nm3/h, demands more and more flexible hydrogen technologies being able to interconnect processes within the site facilities and to react easily to varying feed gas prices by using multi-feed hydrogen plants.”
“Somewhere in-between are hydrogen supply solutions for capacities from about 500 Nm3/h to 2,000 Nm3/h which are strongly related to the individual project and customer. For the near future we see a continuing split of hydrogen technologies in low-cost and high-tech. The growth on the one end will be related to the ability to cut down cost, while on the other end the growth depends on the flexibility of companies to design innovative and customer-tailored solutions."
Based in Calgary, Alberta, Western Hydrogen is a Canadian company dedicated to the development and commercialisation of a new hydrogen manufacturing technology called Molten Salt Gasification. The Molten Salt Gasification process is projected to have significant economic and environmental advantages over current hydrogen manufacturing technologies including lower hydrogen supply costs, maximum feedstock flexibility, significantly lower GHG emissions, high pressure hydrogen production and low-cost CO2 capture.
Lyman Frost, Chief Technology Officer at Western Hydrogen, said, “The shift to heavier oils has increased the demand for hydrogen. As the API for the raw product increases, additional hydrogen is required to convert the raw product to a usable product. For example, bitumen extracted from the Canadian oil sands region and shale oil (kerogen) produced from fracked gas wells require significantly more hydrogen to convert to commercial product than a light crude.”
“Even the upgrading of the heavier oil (i.e. increasing the API to the point it can be put into a pipeline) is a large consumer of hydrogen. The demand for synthetic oils products for the higher temperature engines (i.e. temperature raised to increase efficiency) that are currently being produced also increases demand.”
Netherlands-based HyGear was established in 2002, serving the hydrogen sector with small-scale gas conversion systems that increase the overall energy efficiency and increase the utilisation of renewable energy sources. The company stated, “Due to the rising fossil fuel prices, less energy means less costs. Furthermore many industrial companies cope with emission restrictions and financial penalties if these restrictions are not met. Therefore it is often more advantageous to invest in technologies that reduce the emissions of the production process and supply chain. In other words, emission reduction technologies (clean technologies) are upcoming.”
“One of these energy saving technologies could be hydrogen production by on-site hydrogen generators instead of hydrogen supply by tube trailers or electrolysis. More specifically, on-site hydrogen production by steam methane reforming saves almost 7kg of CO2 per kg produced hydrogen compared to centralised hydrogen production, and 17kg of CO2 compared to electrolysis. This is mainly due to the high CO2 equivalent of electricity used for electrolysis and the high CO2 emissions for hydrogen compression and transportation for centralised production.”
Giving an insight into the emerging technological trends, HyGear answered, “The hydrogen market correlates with several industrial markets. In countries with a rising economy the industrial sector rises too, leading to increased demand for industrial gases like hydrogen. In countries with a static or decreasing economy, hydrogen demand is also less or decreasing.”
“Furthermore, more and more countries are aiming for emission reduction and therefore implementing green energy policies and CO2 emission restrictions. These developments stimulate the potential for hydrogen as an energy carrier and the potential for hydrogen production on-site."
"With the increased production of renewable energy, more fluctuations and surpluses of electricity arise, causing an instable electricity grid. Hydrogen can be deployed as an energy buffer to store the electricity surplus through the Power-to-Gas route."
For the more traditional uses of hydrogen, CALORIC’s Rupprecht responded, “The technological trends are strongly related to the indicated distinction of hydrogen technology in low-cost and high-tech. The supply of less than 500 Nm3/h hydrogen is mainly covered by hydrogen trailers and containerised steam methane reformers (SMR). Trailers are able to transport continuously more and more hydrogen, whereas small hydrogen generation units are completely standardised modules.”
“The trend for technologies supplying more than 2,000 Nm³/h of hydrogen is a continuously increasing interconnection of individual processes. CALORIC recently installed a plant where hydrogen is generated from a feedstock which is considered by the customer as ‘waste’ stream and therefore increases the feasibility and cost efficiency of this hydrogen generation concept.”
“In addition clean CO2 is recovered from the off-gas which is a valuable by-product used in customers’ process, whereas the CO2 free gas is fed back to the hydrogen plant for process heating. Further flexibility is required, especially in Asia where operating costs for hydrogen generation from natural gas – which is often available as LNG only – and methanol are at a quite similar level. Due to permanent fluctuation of LNG and methanol prices, the possibility to switch over to a different feed becomes highly interesting. To react properly at changes of the environment of the market and the single customer needs, the providers of hydrogen generation technology have to meet them with the required flexibility.”
“CALORIC’s strategy is therefore based on low hierarchies for fast decisions and a high share of engineering personnel to create suitable solutions.”
And finally, Frost stated, “There are a number of products that are being developed. Western Hydrogen is developing a new technology that uses low value refinery outputs (asphalts, vacuum residual, and coke) as an energy input with water to produce hydrogen through a chemical looping process. We are currently operating a pilot plant in Alberta, Canada that will produce hydrogen from inputs of water and a carbon source. The approach has been tested in the laboratory with inputs such as natural gas, asphalt, vacuum residual, glycerol, et al.”