Charting a green future with hydrogen

July 7, 2024
Solutions that reliably, safely and efficiently control hydrogen are critical for the success of hydrogen hubs — and the adoption of hydrogen itself.

Hydrogen is a key alternative fuel on the path to decarbonization. Governments around the world are backing the renewable hydrogen industry through substantial subsidies as they seek to reach net-zero targets, positioning the industry for significant growth. In the U.S., the Inflation Reduction Act includes incentives with up to $3 per kilogram of production tax credits for green hydrogen production. This is to accelerate the adoption of green hydrogen over the next decade compared to “gray hydrogen,” which is produced mostly via steam methane reforming (SMR).

Yet, creating a future where green hydrogen is widespread and economical requires fast scale-up and successful deployment. In electrolyzer hubs, hydrogen is subject to high pressures and, like many fuels, can be explosive when not handled properly. To achieve a landscape that can effectively, economically and safely meet demand, it is critical that companies identify technologies that can reliably and efficiently control media, including hydrogen fuel, during production.

The importance of green hydrogen 

Also known as clean hydrogen, green hydrogen can provide as much as 80 gigatons of carbon dioxide (CO2) abatement by 2050.[1] This level of abatement can help in decarbonizing multiple industries, including transportation, and is driving demand and creating lucrative opportunities for hydrogen producers. In fact, by 2031, the global green hydrogen market is projected to reach $108 billion with an astonishing CAGR of 68.9% between 2022 and 2031.[2]

While hydrogen can be used to support fertilizer manufacturing for agriculture by way of ammonia production and sulfur removal in petroleum refining, its value to a green energy future is its unique energy-carrying abilities. Renewable energy production, such as solar and wind, can be inconsistent due to the energy sources’ intermittent presence and a lack of developed storage infrastructure for them. These factors can cause electric grid instability. With three times the energy content of gasoline, hydrogen can be used to store energy from renewable sources outside the grid and then used as needed.

Companies across the hydrogen value chain are working to make the green hydrogen future a reality, and large-scale projects are underway or being planned, including electrolyzers for producing hydrogen. Successful scale-up is key to reducing its current price, which right now is higher than for hydrocarbon fuels and other types of hydrogen, and encouraging green hydrogen adoption. It’s predicted that, through successful scale-up and declining renewables costs, the price of green hydrogen could fall by 30% by 2030.[3]

Production through electrolysis

Green hydrogen is produced through alkaline, polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) or anion exchange membrane (AEM) electrolysis and solid oxide electrolyzer cells powered by renewable energy. In all processes, an electrolyzer uses an electric current to separate water molecules into their base elements, oxygen and hydrogen. AEMs can use less material than alkaline and PEM, while SOECs can take the vapor from the end user, increasing efficiency.

Electrolysis processes include chilling, hydrogen generation, hydrogen purification and water purification. To meet market demand, it’s critical that electrolyzers operate as efficiently, reliably and safely as possible.

Today’s advanced technologies make it possible to precisely control processes, optimize production and reach desired hydrogen purity from the plant floor to the cloud. For an electrolyzer to work effectively and safely, the flow of all fluids, including water, hydrogen, oxygen, air, nitrogen and steam, be precisely controlled. Reliable valves, back-pressure regulators and an intelligent programmable logic controller (PLC) can provide a high level of media control, preventing leaks and minimizing maintenance time and costs while protecting the plant at large.

In an electrolyzer, there are four layers that work together to efficiently, reliably and safely control media.

The first layer is any valve controlling the flow of media — oxygen, water or hydrogen — and includes both back-pressure regulators and pneumatic shut-off valves. Effective valves and regulators will control even the combined delta pressure between the production of hydrogen and oxygen, increasing efficiency.

The second layer is the actuation layer, which includes valve islands and solenoid pilot valves. Both components have the same function, to actuate the pneumatic shut-off valves that handle the process media. These are the valves that require IP66 protection, while pneumatic valves do not require this rating.

The third layer is the PLC, and the fourth is the supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system. The PLC has the control algorithm and executes the desired logic by sending electric signals to the pilot valves to control the process media. Safety-certified PLCs ensure that a plant undergoes a safe, controlled shutdown in case of a hazardous event like a gas leak or fire. Additionally, the SCADA system collects all the plant data and provides operator and engineering displays, trends, analyses, alarms and notifications, thereby providing the ability to control and monitor the plant process via display panels or human-machine interface (HMI). And an energy management system, predictive tools and intelligent devices make it possible to tackle challenges such as intermittent electricity.

These four layers form the control ecosystem in a hydrogen electolyzer plant. While the electrolyzer is part of the plant, other skids such as buffer, compressors, purifications are also part, which also have lots of valves, and functions such as win control can be managed by , the SCADA system.

The advantage of an integrated, scalable approach

To protect people and property while maximizing production levels, it’s essential that the electrolyzers in hydrogen hubs operate as safely and efficiently as possible. One way to ensure this is through digital transformation (DX). While electrolyzer manufacturers and hydrogen producers can source technology from multiple vendors to engineer DX solutions, there’s a distinct advantage to taking an integrated, scalable approach to DX.

An integrated, scalable approach to DX provides hydrogen producers with real-time visibility and control that can continually optimize operations and automate key processes. By integrating a technology stack of sensors, automation hardware and edge and industrial software, producers can access data across the hub floor and translate it into valuable insights. With this level of in-the-moment information, producers can make calculated decisions, solve problems and realize ambitious goals. It’s also possible for this kind of approach to create a digital trail that can help identify trends, detect errors, perform root cause analysis and predict failures, giving hubs a significant advantage over the long term.

When taking this kind of approach, it’s important to work with a partner with proven hydrogen and DX experience. This type of provider has a comprehensive portfolio of flow control and pressure regulation technologies as well as optimized hardware and software combinations. This makes it possible for hydrogen producers to build hydrogen production solutions from the floor upward in an integrated way for optimal compatibility, scalability and security.

Taking the next steps

The future of green hydrogen first depends on the success of production, and high-pressure solutions can safely, effectively and efficiently control hydrogen and other media. With a high level of control, electrolyzer manufacturers and hydrogen producers can have the confidence to install and scale up hydrogen production systems that meet market demand. This critical foundation has the potential to accelerate global green hydrogen use and the transformative future of hydrogen energy.





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