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Overcoming Challenges in Hydrogen Production and Distribution

by , | Jul 20, 2021 | Energy & Emissions, Sustainability

Jim Cahill

Jim Cahill

Chief Blogger, Social Marketing Leader


Hydrogen makes a great carrier of energy as well as being the most abundant element in the universe. As an energy carrier, it:

…has a high energy content per unit of weight, which is why it is used as a rocket fuel and in fuel cells to produce electricity on some spacecraft. Hydrogen is not widely used as a fuel now, but it has the potential for greater use in the future.

The byproduct of hydrogen used as a fuel in fuel cells is water, making it a clean fuel. Production of hydrogen can come from hydrocarbons, biomass, nuclear, solar, wind, and more—so the source of its production determines how sustainable the supply is. Hydrogen produced through renewable energy sources such as solar and wind is referred to as green hydrogen.

I mention all this as background for an article in the German Digital Engineering magazine. In the Google translation of the article, Energy carriers of the future: How companies benefit from hydrogen, Emerson’s Jörg Brahm notes there are challenges to overcome for widespread use as an energy source. Jörg opens explaining that:

…R&D efforts are currently being made to increase the efficiency of the electrolyzer system, as well as the electrolyzer operating time, power density, and stack size. With these improvements, material costs are reduced and more flexible systems are achieved that can accommodate an occasionally interrupted and fluctuating power supply.

Given the hazardous nature of hydrogen as a fuel:

…as the smallest and lightest element, incorrect handling can have catastrophic consequences. Therefore, electrolyzer components must be reliable and built for hazardous environments to protect people and property.

Jörg notes that it:

…is particularly important to work with a supplier who has a wide range of measurement, control and electrical devices specially designed to improve the reliability and safety in the hazardous areas of electrolysers. In addition to valves, valve systems, flow meters, regulators and pressure transmitters, they should also contain intelligent technologies, such as scalable process control and safety solutions. These should be able to reduce operational complexity, lower risks and improve the performance of green hydrogen plants. Site-wide security system functions are also relevant.

The challenges in hydrogen production and distribution extend through the supply chain in conversion, storage and transport. Reliable controls are needed to address this hazardous energy source. These:

…include shut-off and metering valves, high pressure regulators, pneumatic actuators, and solenoid valves. Reliable control and safety circuits provide the precision necessary to maintain adequate pressure and flow rates and ensure hydrogen purity. Sensors should be integrated for remote monitoring of pressure, temperature and flow rates. When using intelligent devices, data can be collected to improve productivity, monitor plant status and ensure high operating yields.

Read the article [non-translated article] for more on criteria for automation supplier selection, the technologies for safe fuel cell operation, filling station operation, and the path forward to scaling green hydrogen as an energy source. Visit the Energy & Emissions section on Emerson.com for more on the technologies and solutions driving more sustainable energy usage.

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The opinions expressed here are the personal opinions of the authors. Content published here is not read or approved by Emerson before it is posted and does not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Emerson.