Is hydrogen available today?
There is a large infrastructure of hydrogen today to meet the needs of industrial applications including metals processing, refining, chemical production, fats and oils production, and electronics processing. About 45 billion kilograms (50 million tons) is produced every year—enough hydrogen to fuel 250 million fuel cell cars. Some of this hydrogen is being used to fuel vehicles.
How do we produce hydrogen today?
The majority of merchant hydrogen is produced by a process called steam methane reforming. Hydrogen is generated from a hydrocarbon (such as natural gas) and water at high temperatures in catalytic reactors. The hydrogen is typically purified using pressure swing adsorption.
Some of the merchant hydrogen sold is recovered from industrial processes. While this is still fossil fuel based, it is allowing us to recover the hydrogen for direct application instead of being combusted by its industrial producer for its heating value.
About 95% of the total global hydrogen production is captive meaning it is used at the site where it is produced. (Merchant hydrogen represents the balance.) Much of the hydrogen produced from coal is in China for ammonia production.
How do you get the hydrogen to the customer?
Hydrogen can be delivered to your site by truck as a liquid or compressed gas, or it can be generated on-site. It is also delivered by pipeline. The primary reason hydrogen is liquefied is for its higher storage density, which allows easier deliver. For industrial customers that use large quantities of hydrogen, the production facility is often built at the point of use. Electrolysis may also be used to generate hydrogen on-site for very small users. In the future, as small reforming generator technology improves, an additional on-site sourcing option for the full range of users will become available.
What does hydrogen cost?
The cost of hydrogen is dependent on the production technology, the cost of the feedstock, and power. Delivery, storage and fuel delivery equipment are also part of the cost. Our industrial customers see a wide range in price difference depending on their geography, delivery method and use quantity. It is our belief that hydrogen has the potential to compete with gasoline when the improved efficiency of the fuel cell is taken into consideration.
The cost of hydrogen produced at a large SMR is approximately equal on an energy equivalent basis to gasoline at a refinery.
In what units of measure is hydrogen sold?
Most industrial hydrogen is sold as a normal cubic meter (Nm3) or by hundred standard cubic foot (cscf) or thousand standard cubic foot (mscf) increments. This is even true when it is sold as a cryogenic liquid. For vehicle fueling, fills are reported in kilograms (kg) or gasoline gallon equivalents (GGE). In the United States, the sale of hydrogen cannot take place at the fueling dispenser until the Bureau of Weights and Standards has approved hydrogen as a motor fuel.
Can hydrogen be put into natural gas pipelines?
Some, but not all natural gas pipelines have the potential for conversion to hydrogen. Hydrogen is used in pipelines today. Air Products has seven pipeline systems in the US, the UK, The Netherlands and Thailand. Some of these pipelines were originally in natural gas service.
There are many issues that must be taken into account when considering converting a pipeline, the most important being materials of construction and weld procedures. Hydrogen pipelines use a low to moderate strength steel to limit concerns of hydrogen embrittlement. Some natural gas pipelines use pipes with higher strength steels or other materials as this allows reduced wall thickness.
How much will it cost to develop a hydrogen infrastructure?
There are many companies and governments working to understand what the various possibilities are for the development of a hydrogen infrastructure. Just as the current gasoline infrastructure wasn't built at once, the hydrogen infrastructure won't be built at once either. Many questions have to be answered first, such as:
- Will we produce hydrogen from natural gas as an interim solution and phase towards renewable production?
- Will we fuel our vehicles differently than at the corner gas station? Maybe at home or work?
- Will our car power our home?
- Will new storage technology allow more efficient delivery?
- Will we need to develop a much larger pipeline infrastructure to make enough fuel available?
Can I buy hydrogen generated from renewable resources?
Just as most power produced today comes from fossil fuels like coal and natural gas, so does most hydrogen. There are a few solar, wind and hydroelectric projects producing hydrogen, but this hydrogen is generally committed and volumes are limited. Several biomass projects are planned. More renewable hydrogen will become available as customers demand renewable fuel and the cost of renewable power becomes more competitive.
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