Holy-grail hydrogen gets its place in the sun

Holy-grail hydrogen gets its place in the sun

Cheap, clean hydrogen is the future fuel of choice for a greener economy, with many corporations and customers showing keen interest in investing in hydrogen pilot projects and making use of HYDAC’s equipment in this regard.

This is according to HYDAC Automation and Control Engineer Dirshan Daby.

Mr Daby says that this interest has only been heightened by the federal government’s emissions’ road map that has delineated the hydrogen industry as one of five priority low-emissions technologies and accordingly committed more than $500 million to it since 2015.

Mr Daby says of foremost importance to these corporations and customers is whether a pilot project they invest in will be profitable in future commercial rollouts.

“The real challenges to come will be the upscaling of pilot projects to industrial production, the amount of energy input versus the amount of energy output, and the safety of the whole process, especially whether efficient hydrogen and safe hydrogen production can be assured through a commercially feasible process,” he says.

“I would say that efficiency and safety are the two key points in hydrogen production.”

Mr Daby says that the next concern is whether “hydrogen is clean enough to be used in fuel cells”.

HYDAC is a powerful hydrogen partner

“HYDAC aligns with these words because when someone talks about hydrogen safety they are referring to control systems in place – which HYDAC has on offer in-house – including ATEX and IECEx-rated sensors, which are ideal for explosive environments.”

HYDAC also has its own senior electricians in-house who can wire control panels to ATEX requirements, he says. This means that systems can communicate with each other when the production factor is being multiplied to ensure the process is streamlined while also remaining efficient and safe.

“When an upscaling takes place and intense, energy-driven processes are used, a decline in efficiency takes place due to heat and noise losses. It’s here that HYDAC can offer its cooling systems and its understanding of an application as a result of an in-house team dedicated to HYDAC’s e-mobility division.

“With the aid of our local engineering and cooling team we can design bespoke systems suitable to the Australian climate. This means we can use systems from a European manufacturer and align them to Australian standards and the Australian climate.”

As to cleanliness, HYDAC has on offer a range of filtration products that meet requirement at any point on a production line and are enhanced by the company’s in-depth understanding of what customers are trying to achieve in terms of cleanliness after many years’ experience in the field.

Hydrogen production

The current preferred method for hydrogen production is the use of PEM electrolysers that split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen using powered electrodes and separation membranes.

Mr Daby explains that when producing hydrogen for fuel cells it is imperative to have clean and dry fuel. Hydrogen from electrolysers requires coalescing filters in this process, which are also on offer from HYDAC. They are required for hydrogen drying in that some humidity is produced in the production of hydrogen, which has to be pumped out the system.

He adds that when charging hydrogen tanks at high pressure, solid contaminants, if present, can be catastrophic to fuel cells and tanks, which essentially require laboratory clean hydrogen, if not cleaner hydrogen. In this regard HYDAC has on offer a range of solid contaminant gas filters.

“We developed products to ensure dry and clean hydrogen is supplied to refuelling stations and we also have testing and sampling equipment to ensure hydrogen of the highest purity,” Mr Daby says. 

“Throughout the whole process gas cooling is required. On the hydrogen side this means keeping the hydrogen cool so that the level of hazard can decrease as well. Then it’s also necessary to cool the compressors and electrolysers used in the process.”

HYDAC is well prepared to meet cooling requirements through its range of fluid heat exchangers to air blast coolers and chillers that can achieve below ambient temperatures.

“HYDAC has the products, product knowledge and process knowledge ready to assist the customer, but what is often more important is that the customer sees that HYDAC has an understanding of regulations when designing systems for Australia.”

This is evident in the company’s understanding of pressure vessel regulations in different states accompanied by in-depth knowledge of product compliance and site specifications, with compliance being of key importance to many companies, Mr Daby says.

“All of this shows the extent to which HYDAC can be a powerful hydrogen partner when it comes to the supply and integration of these products in Australia.”

This came to the fore when HYDAC assisted a car manufacturer in Altona to redevelop systems from European standards to Australian standards, including the supply of pressure vessels to the AS 1210 standard.

“HYDAC is on top of all certifications to ensure that systems conform to state regulations and are safe for application in Australia. Without the type of support and knowledge it would have been time consuming and costly for the car manufacturer to integrate equipment into the Australian context, especially in terms of hydrogen safety and compliance into the future,” Mr Daby says.

This applies to cooling systems, especially ones used for projects in Queensland and on mining sites in Western Australia, which contend with high ambient temperatures that designers of these systems in other countries would not have had in mind.

This means that some sort of modification and upgrades are required for these systems to run at the same level of efficiency in Australia, and here HYDAC’s cooling systems would especially come in handy.

HYDAC solutions for hydrogen applications

Hydrogen versus batteries

Mr Daby explains that electricity from renewable sources such as solar and wind is dependent on weather conditions.

For the most part peak production will take place on windy and sunny days but will decrease at night time and when the wind dies which does not always align with peak consumption, he says.

“This resulted in the idea of putting renewable electricity into batteries for energy storage. The advantages of batteries include the alacrity at which they can power – at a flick of a switch. They have high energy densities and require low maintenance but the downside of batteries is that they’re still expensive to manufacture and they age and degrade under high temperatures, which affect their lifecycle.

“So this brings to the fore the idea of hydrogen as the next battery, which means using excess electricity produced from renewable sources to power electrolysers and produce hydrogen.”

Mr Daby points out that hydrogen has a high-energy density, is a compressible gas that can be stored in large quantities without risk of degradation, and “pulled” in where required to power a turbine or used in fuel cells.

“Big advantages include the facts that hydrogen is clean with no carbon emission and has a higher energy density than batteries,” he says.

“And just to make it clear that I’m not trying to negate batteries because they do have their purposes such as stabilising the grid and for short-term peak demand or interrupted power for systems, but on a long-term basis hydrogen has far more to offer.”

Hydrogen sector gets green light from government

Mr Daby highlights that government is supporting the hydrogen sector as evident in its allocation of $1.85 million for the setup of thirteen technology clusters in Australia to assist SMEs participate and gain know-how in this sector. Proposed projects are primarily in Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania.

Deloitte anticipates the hydrogen economy could increase GDP by up to $26 million and add up to 16,900 jobs by 2050 with the right policy settings, demand signals and supply chain.

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