Aggressive net-zero climate goals are driving investment and attention to renewable sources of energy, including climate-friendly hydrogen. Interest in hydrogen is not new; what is new is the critical role it can play to meet global mandate for decarbonization. In fact, over the last decade, hydrogen demand has increased 28% as more industries realize its potential as an energy source alternative to fossil fuels, particularly in industries that are difficult to decarbonize, as well as a wide range of applications across the entire value chain.
There are a myriad of ways to create hydrogen, some of which have carbon byproducts and others that have no emissions, but all types come with unique complexities. Ideally, the focus would be on the production of “green hydrogen,” which is derived from purely renewable sources with no emissions. However, scaling and commercializing green hydrogen has a long way to go—complicating factors include building the infrastructure, making it reliable and safe, delivering it at a competitive cost, and giving consumers confidence that it will be available when and where it’s needed.
In the interim, producing various types of hydrogen, including blue and grey, can help meet current demand, drive more adoption and offer key learnings to help bring down costs. Like all new industries, it takes measurable progress across the entire value chain to move an industry forward faster.
Implementing hydrogen across the value chain
As demand for hydrogen grows, the industry will need to accelerate and scale production and distribution. Whether using electrolyzers or steam-methane reformers with carbon capture, companies will depend on advanced automation technologies combined with enhanced processes and powerful data analytics. The right technologies can help improve productivity, reduce variability, decrease energy usage, lower emissions and validate the sustainability of operations.
Global automation design based on smart devices, IoT, distributed-control systems, data analytics, digital twins and advanced engineering tools enable plants to design one facility and easily scale, accelerate the learning curve, improve operational efficiency, benefit from preventive maintenance and optimize asset-lifecycle costs.
Emerson is working on a pilot project called PosHYdon that will be instrumental in providing insights into electrolyzer efficiency and the development of large-scale green hydrogen production systems.
PosHYdon produces hydrogen offshore of the Netherlands, generating renewable fuels by harnessing green electricity from offshore wind turbines to power the production process. The process converts sea water into demineralized water, then safely produces hydrogen via electrolysis. The hydrogen is then blended with natural gas, transported to the coast and fed into the national-gas grid.
The project is using Emerson’s DeltaV distributed control system technology to control the desalination and electrolyzer units, gas-blending and balance of plant equipment, while providing enhanced safety, process uptime and operational efficiency.
Sustainable hydrogen projects are challenging because they need to integrate many data sources into one balance-of-plant system, a process that’s critical for a facility’s success. Emerson is collaborating with Toyota Australia to transform part of the car manufacturer’s operations into a commercial-grade hydrogen production, storage and refueling plant. The project relies on Emerson’s DeltaV control system to gather and contextualize data from the plant’s complex equipment, making it easier to monitor production and storage of hydrogen gas and validate the sustainability of operations.
“By incorporating a digital automation foundation to eliminate data silos, Toyota Australia can not only significantly reduce costs, but also gain greater visibility into system performance, making it easier to maintain and report sustainability performance and increase productivity,” said Mark Bulanda, executive president of Emerson’s Automation Solutions business.
Another exciting project is Mitsubishi Power Americas’ Advanced Clean Energy Storage Project, which is expected to be one of the world’s largest industrial green hydrogen production and storage hubs. The facility will supply hydrogen feedstock to the adjacent Intermountain Power Agency’s Intermountain Power Plant (IPP) Renewed project, which will use the next generation of total plant simulation that includes Emerson’s digital twin technology, Mitsubishi high-fidelity gas turbine and steam turbine models, and advanced analytics to support commissioning and training. The 840 MW IPP Renewed hydrogen-capable gas turbine combined-cycle power plant will initially run on a blend of 30% green hydrogen, and 70% natural gas by volume starting in 2025, and will increase to 100% by 2045.
Transportation and storage
Before hydrogen can be used for power, it must be converted, stored or transported. The focus is on minimizing hydrogen leaks, knowing how much hydrogen passes through transmissions and transfer points, and handling it safely and efficiently. Hydrogen storage is a key enabling technology for the advancement of hydrogen in applications including stationary power, portable power and transportation. Hydrogen molecules may be transported and stored in various forms: liquid H2, via Liquid Organic Hydrogen Carrier (LOHC) or as ammonia molecules. The characteristics of hydrogen storage are very much complementary to other shorter-term energy storage technologies such as lithium-ion batteries.
There are manageable safety risks of overpressure and leak concerns from high-vibration, high-pressure conditions. Emerson’s anti-surge valves, vibration detectors and pressure regulators help improve reliability and prevent fugitive emissions.
A key to faster technology adoption is to utilize existing infrastructure, saving time and money for project implementation. Blending hydrogen in natural-gas pipelines is a great example. Natural gas-sourced hydrogen, combined with carbon-capture, provides a massive opportunity to accelerate hydrogen adoption around the world.
Blending hydrogen in natural gas infrastructure, however, poses three challenges: corrosion, hydrogen leaks, and gas quality and interchangeability. Emerson’s corrosion-monitoring technology is tailored to meet the specific needs of hydrogen-blended pipelines. Remote monitoring of pipelines provides a detailed picture of operations—tracking products, fluid composition and more—to improve pipeline integrity. Hydrogen-approved gas chromatographs ensure that gas quality and contractual specifications are met.
With help from Emerson technology, Canadian energy provider Enbridge is the first in North America to use renewable electricity to produce emission-free hydrogen. Enbridge blends hydrogen into the natural-gas infrastructure to deliver cleaner energy to 3,500 homes.
Hydrogen filling stations will eventually replace traditional fuel-filling stations, requiring systems that meet the highest performance and safety standards. Automation technologies help reduce maintenance costs and unplanned disruptions at fueling stations. Also, advanced edge-control technologies will enable unmanned stations, driving a more feasible and cost-effective solution.
At the same time, operators want assurances that stations dispense the right amount of fuel at the right pressure, quickly and safely. Advanced instrumentation to dispense accurate fuel volumes will help reduce costs, decrease leaks and ensure safe operations.
Fuel cells that convert hydrogen fuel into clean energy to power vehicles must also be reliable and offer small, lightweight footprints. Optimizing fuel cell systems is crucial to eliminate downtime and reduce costs.
Emerson is working with BayoTech, which is building hundreds of modular, efficient hydrogen units to produce cleaner, lower-cost hydrogen. These units can produce up to 1,000 kilograms of hydrogen per day, enough to fill as many as 200 hydrogen-fuel cell vehicles. To drive scale globally, BayoTech’s local production hubs will rely on Emerson’s programmable-logic controller and edge-control technologies, remote monitoring, and Microsoft Azure IoT Suite to operate safely and autonomously.
The fuel of the future
Hydrogen is the future of a diversified and environmentally sustainable energy mix, but we need a balanced, accelerated approach across the entire value chain to make this ambitious goal a reality. As we innovate and scale hydrogen solutions across the value chain, we’ll help lower costs, build consumer demand and confidence, and validate the technologies needed to produce, transport, store and consume hydrogen.
But getting there first means building a solid foundation that combines automation technologies, collaborative engineering and partners with domain expertise, all while using existing infrastructure to help accelerate hydrogen’s development as a pervasive, reliable energy source—a true fuel for the future.
By Loic Charbonneau, Emerson Automation Solutions sustainability and decarbonisation expert