Many countries in Europe and Asia have taken the opportunity of their post-pandemic economic recovery plans to roll out ambitious hydrogen strategies. The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has also highlighted the risk to the global energy supply and relying on natural gas from Russia.

France has recently announced a €7bn package to build a carbon-free hydrogen industry. Germany issued a similar program of €9bn and that has intensified as their reliance on Russian gas is threatened. In July, the European Commission said it is looking to increase its production capacity of electrolysers from 250MW today to 40GW in 2030. Similar strategies have been released by the UK, Australia, and Asian countries. These are just some of the most recent announcements, but they show a clear trend towards massive public investments in the sector.

Bringing the price of green hydrogen down to the desired level is a challenge – primarily due to economies of scale and the falling costs of renewables – which currently only a few technologies are expected to deliver. The European Commission announced a target price of €1-2/kg for green hydrogen in its hydrogen strategy by 2030, which would make it competitive with grey hydrogen (currently around €1.5/kg). Australia has a similar plan named ‘H2 under 2’ program to bring down the cost of green hydrogen below AUS$2 ($1.40)/kg.

Hydrogen storage challenges

However, the primary challenge facing the fuel is storage and transportation. Hydrogen storage is a critical enabling technology for advancing hydrogen and fuel cell technologies in applications including stationary power, portable power, and transportation. Hydrogen has the highest energy per mass of any fuel; however, its low ambient temperature density results in a low energy per unit volume, requiring the development of advanced storage methods that have the potential for higher energy density.

Hydrogen can be stored physically as either a gas or a liquid. Storage of hydrogen as a gas typically requires high-pressure tanks (350 – 700 bar [5,000 – 10,000 psi] tank pressure). Storage of hydrogen as a liquid requires cryogenic temperatures because the boiling point of hydrogen at one-atmosphere pressure is −252.8°C. Hydrogen can also be stored on the surfaces of solids (by adsorption) or within solids (by absorption).

High-density hydrogen storage is a challenge for stationary and portable applications and remains a significant challenge for transportation applications. Presently available storage options typically require large-volume systems that store hydrogen in gaseous form. This is less of an issue for stationary applications, where the footprint of compressed gas tanks may be less critical.

Handling hydrogen in LOHC

One solution that has been overlooked is liquid organic hydrogen carriers (LOHC) and this is an option being pioneered by H2-Industries. H2-Industries has developed innovative, effective, and environmentally friendly LOHC energy storage solutions. The company was founded in 2010 by entrepreneur Michael Stusch and is headquartered in New York with research, development and production located in Hamburg.

LOHC are organic compounds that can absorb and release hydrogen through chemical reactions. They can therefore be used as storage media for hydrogen. In principle, every unsaturated compound (organic molecules with C-C double or triple bonds) can take up hydrogen during hydrogenation. The sequence of endothermal dehydrogenation followed by hydrogen purification is considered the main drawback, limiting the overall efficiency of the storage cycle. One m³ LOHC enables the safe storage of 57 kg H2.

The start of the process is to use renewable electricity to produce hydrogen from water through electrolysis. In this process, hydrogen becomes chemically bound in a proprietary fluid, LOHC, which carries the hydrogen safely, and can be used to store energy safely in scalable, compact storage systems, which are environmentally friendly (emission-free) and with virtually unlimited storage capacity.

By chemically binding the hydrogen, it can also be stored under normal conditions, contrary to current practice. This makes hydrogen handling not only safer but also cheaper. With LOHC, the volatile hydrogen gas no longer needs to be cooled or compressed in a costly and energy-intensive manner to enable economical transport. With LOHC, we can compensate for temporal fluctuations and local discrepancies between the generation and energy demand.

This makes hydrogen easy to transport. For example, from northern Germany, where hydrogen can be produced using wind energy, to the south, where hydrogen can help reduce CO2 emissions in refineries. There are numerous other use cases as well in transportation and for energy intensive industries.

Utilising existing infrastructure

LOHC can use existing diesel infrastructure and safely store hydrogen over long periods without loss. Using non-flammable and non-toxic carrier materials such as BT,9 LOHC can use existing industry-scale diesel infrastructure without any additional safety regulations. The main drawbacks of LOHC are the novelty of the dehydrogenation process, which requires large amounts of heat to release the hydrogen from the carrier, and the limited hydrogen carrying capacity compared with LH2 and NH3. The ability to use cheaper storage tanks than those needed for other carriers partly outweighs these issues. This makes hydrogen handling not only safer but also cheaper.

The technology that H2-Industries has developed for LOHC can be modified to be suitable for other hydrogen carriers such as methylcyclohexane (MCH) and ammonia that are being investigated and developed in tandem. As an alternative to using LOHC to store and transport H2, H2-Industries can also create low-cost, carbon-neutral synthetic diesel (eDiesel) or sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), with hydrogen and the captured CO2, depending on international market demand for same.

More to come

H2-Industries is also commercialising other green hydrogen products to meet the commercial needs of end users with applications ranging from the transformation of coal fired power plants to hydrogen power plants and transforming steel, cement and glass production making it CO2 free by using H2-Industries’ technology and green hydrogen.

As the energy transition is picking up speed, recent events have changed the global energy landscape forever. Understandably there have been many discussions on strategies to address the new realities and challenges the industry now faces. Hydrogen will no doubt play an important role in this development as we transition from fossil fuels to renewable sources.

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