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.
The majority of hydrogen is produced by a process called steam methane reforming. Hydrogen is generated from a hydrocarbon (such as natural gas or biomethane) and water at high temperatures in catalytic reactors. The hydrogen is typically purified using pressure swing adsorption technology.
Some of the hydrogen sold is recovered from waste gas streams of 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 and is delivered as a liquid or gas to customers. Much of the hydrogen produced from coal is in China for ammonia production.
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 delivery. For industrial customers that use large quantities of hydrogen, the production facility is often built at the point of use. Electrolysis and reformers may also be used to generate hydrogen on-site for smaller users.
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.
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 certifies our dispensers for accuracy.
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.
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. Hydrogen fueling stations are being deployed in specific geographies around the world in which car manufactures are committed to deploying fuel cell vehicles in the coming years.
Yes, renewable hydrogen is being sold around the world for vehicle fueling. Just as most power produced today comes from fossil fuels like coal and natural gas, so does most hydrogen. More renewable hydrogen will become available as customers demand renewable fuel and the cost of renewable fuel becomes competitive with traditional methods of hydrogen production.
Hydrogen is not more or less safe than other fuels, it’s just different. Hydrogen vehicles and fueling stations must be designed around the unique properties of hydrogen. The industrial record for hydrogen safety has been excellent over the years, and it is expected that use of hydrogen as a fuel will meet or exceed expectations for vehicle and fuel safety.