Enabling a hydrogen economy
Howden has extensive experience in compression solutions across the hydrogen value chain and champions hydrogen’s critical role to accelerate the energy transition.
Salah Mahdy, Howden’s Global Director of Renewable Hydrogen, recently shared his insights with Tank Storage Magazine about the challenges and opportunities for the hydrogen economy, current enabling technologies and Howden’s contribution to industry leading projects. This article is also available in Tank Storage Magazine June/July edition.
Hydrogen storage and transportation
As governments and industries across the world look for ways to become more sustainable, the phrase ‘energy transition’ is becoming increasingly popular. Strictly speaking, the term refers to the decreasing use of fossil fuels in our economy’s energy mix. However, in reality, the term has been extended to mean much more, becoming synonymous with decarbonisation and moves toward a net-zero or low-carbon society.
This transition in the energy market is necessary to preserve the needs of future generations and will take years of continuous change to both processes and business cultures. It will be driven by innovation and evolution towards a better state of lower consumption, cleaner energy production and reduced CO2 emissions.
Hydrogen - and innovations in its production, transportation and use - are rapidly developing as it emerges as a key energy source to support the transition. Hydrogen is very versatile and can be used in a large number of applications such as power generation, mobility in cars and trucks, as well as a feedstock in number of chemical industries. It can also be blended with natural gas in pipelines (provided some specification requirements in the pipeline and end use are met), and used in traditional combustion-based processes, creating an immediate impact of carbon reduction.
Hydrogen can also be employed as a chemical reactant in many industrial processes. When converted into ammonia, it can then be used as a chemical or as a fuel. Hydrogen can be a reduction agent in ‘fossil free’ steel production, or a reactant for e-methanol which can then be blended in traditional fuels. The expansion and importance of the hydrogen industry is clear in the additional funding and attention it has received from economies and governments around the globe.
Whether in metal vessels or underground including in salt or rock caverns, hydrogen storage is a key enabler for the advancement of hydrogen and related fuel cell technologies throughout the world. Cost-effective hydrogen storage is required to support the use of hydrogen in current and future industrial applications, including transportation, portable and stationary power. While hydrogen has the highest energy per mass of any fuel, its low energy density results in a low energy per unit volume. This makes it important to develop advanced high-pressure storage methods that have potential for higher energy density.
Physically, hydrogen can be stored as either a gas or a liquid. Storage of hydrogen as a gas typically requires high-pressure tanks (350–1000 bar tank pressure). Storage of hydrogen as a liquid requires cryogenic temperatures because the boiling point of hydrogen at one atmosphere pressure is −252.8°C.
Many hydrogen storage solutions are based on decades of focused experience in the oil and gas industry. For example, Howden’s reciprocating compressors – both diaphragm compressors and piston compressors – have been key in driving this industry forward. Its ‘Burton Corblin’ Diaphragm Compressors, invented by Henri Corblin in 1916, provide zero contamination, leak-tight compression of any gas and can reach high pressures of up to 3000 bar. Howden’s Thomassen reciprocating compressors have provided trusted solutions in the industry, especially when high pressure and significant flow rates are required.
Hydrogen storage for the world’s first fossil-free steel plant
Projects large and small will be necessary for a worldwide shift to more renewables in the energy mix. Howden has already delivered solutions on all scales, including the delivery of a hydrogen storage compression solution for HYBRIT, the world’s first fossil-free steel plant, in Svartöberget, Sweden. A joint project between Sweden's SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall, HYBRIT is the deployment of a unique pilot project for large-scale hydrogen storage. This initiative leads the development of the world’s first fossil-free value chain for the iron and steel industry, to address renewable hydrogen storage.
For this particular project, Howden was contracted to supply a high-pressure diaphragm compression package to seamlessly integrate the storage cycle of the hydrogen production. The storage facility consists of a 100 cubic metre hydrogen storage built in an enclosed rock cavern approximately 30 metres below ground. This offers a cost-effective solution, with the necessary pressure required, to store large amounts of energy in the form of hydrogen.
Additional hydrogen solutions in action
Howden provides compressors across the hydrogen value chain and supplies solutions to support the whole process, from storage to transportation to end use. Howden has been involved in a variety of projects, including the largest hydrogen compression system in the world. When Kuwait National Petroleum Company (KNPC) upgraded two of its existing refineries, Howden delivered Thomassen reciprocating compressors to the engineering firm Fluor to build the largest API618 reciprocating compressor system ever constructed for hydrogen service.
The eight-cylinder Thomassen C-85 reciprocating compressor is one in a series of six, delivered over a six-month period, which processes more than 1,000,000 Nm3/h of high pressure hydrogen. This project was a key milestone, as very similar compressor technology has since been used by Howden in several renewable hydrogen compression applications, where hydrogen is produced by electrolysis. This highlights the importance of the link between the traditional energy industry and the increasingly popular renewable hydrogen, where reliable and well proven solutions can be adopted to improve safety and accelerate the evolution of process performance.
Another application of interest is the use of Howden compressors in the world’s largest hydrogen refuelling station (HRS). The Beijing Daxing HRS in China has the capacity to produce 4.8 tonnes per day of hydrogen and refuel up to 600 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, including large vehicles such as trucks and buses.
The Daxing HRS is part of the 200,000 square-meter Beijing International Hydrogen Energy Demonstration Zone. In this project, Howden diaphragm compressors were selected, demonstrating again how technologies that have been used for decades in the industry now provide important building blocks to the new hydrogen economy.
Even more recently, Howden supplied eight diaphragm compressors for hydrogen refuelling stations at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games. The compression technology brought hydrogen energy to four refuelling stations, filling up to 180 vehicles a day, including buses and service cars. As more large-scale events set targets to be low carbon and/or zero-emissions, these solutions will become more common and more important.
Despite hydrogen’s longevity, because of the recent expansion within the industry, it is challenged by the fact it has not yet developed its own design standards for both processes as well as equipment and solutions. With the need for managing cost whilst ensuring high quality and the safety of products, there is a requirement for standardisation across the board.
It’s also important to focus on innovation in developing advanced compression technologies to bring increased efficiency, consume less power and have a reduced footprint - all of which will minimise the cost of the ownership and reduce the levelised cost of hydrogen that the market needs.
Howden’s business strategy has looked at all of these challenges and it is responding to market needs; growing and adapting as it evolves. Mobility applications and pilot projects in a number of process industries will take the lead in the early years, and larger scale projects will follow once more advanced technologies are available. There is also a focus on developing more advanced technologies that the market will need in the future to accelerate the deployment of new hydrogen solutions.
The future of hydrogen
It is now crucial that all industries focus on the energy transition and driving sustainability throughout their processes. It is the responsibility of everyone to make the changes a priority and it will require collaboration from many experts, different sectors and multiple technologies.
It is also key that there is a global approach. Howden is involved in a large number of hydrogen projects in the key regions including Europe, APAC, China, and America, and it has also identified a number of opportunities in Africa. Ensuring that every region has access to the necessary technology and solutions will help to speed up the transition, and lead to a greater global impact in line with emissions targets. Howden’s strong aftermarket capabilities, with over 6000 experts operating from over 90 locations across the globe, will ensure that the projects Howden will serve will get the 24/7 support they need across the projects’ life cycle which is crucial to the profitability, reliability and safety of these projects.
The increased demand for alternative fuel sources coupled with the investment support to reduce carbon emissions and meet decarbonisation goals - in addition to the various uses for hydrogen - are all opportunities to advance the manufacture and progress the utilisation of hydrogen.
As the hydrogen economy is enjoying unprecedented business and political momentum, with the number of projects and policies around the world expanding rapidly, there is no doubt the opportunities are there. Now is the time to educate and inform, and provide businesses with the information and technology required to take on hydrogen solutions and advance their transition to more sustainable processes. This benefits them, and ultimately, will benefit the world.
Please visit our Renewable Hydrogen webpage, for more information on Howden’s hydrogen compression solutions.