Industry Players Establish First International Hydrogen Supply Chain


  • A consortium of energy industry players are committed to reducing emissions.
  • They have moved hydrogen that’s bonded with another chemical for transport before being dehydrogenated at the destination.
  • LOHCs turn hydrogen directly to liquid and best suited for shipping.
  • It is the signature fuel of the American space program used by NASA.

According to an article published in Popular Mechanics and authored by Caroline Delbert, the energy industry could have a new way to get hydrogen around the globe.

Industry players bounded by a common goal

A consortium of energy industry players in Japan and Brunei have safely moved hydrogen that’s bonded with another chemical for transport before being dehydrogenated at the destination.

Liquid organic hydrogen carriers (LOHCs) take an important place in this kind of hydrogen shipping. That’s because turning hydrogen directly to liquid—best known as the signature fuel of the American space program—requires near-absolute-zero temperatures and extraordinary care.

NASA explains, Because liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen are both cryogenic—gases that can be liquefied only at extremely low temperatures—they pose enormous technical challenges. Liquid hydrogen must be stored at minus 423°F and handled with extreme care. To keep it from evaporating or boiling off, rockets fuelled with liquid hydrogen must be carefully insulated from all sources of heat, such as rocket engine exhaust and air friction during flight through the atmosphere.

Rocket engine exhaust isn’t part of the average oversea cargo ship, but all sources of heat including friction is a dangerous blanket statement. By taking hydrogen gas and dissolving it into another chemical, LOHC advocates say, they can carry hydrogen in normal surface conditions and without that level of care.

Liquid organic hydrogen carriers

These carbon-carrying members of the organic compound’s family are also flammable. The fact that hydrogen is both the most flammable (and the star of the Hindenburg disaster) doesn’t mean these mixers and products aren’t also flammable. In this case, hydrogen is blended with methylbenzene (toluene) to make methylcyclohexane. Both are still hazardous materials that must be handled with great care.

The best alternative to replace crude?

In a better world, we wouldn’t still be carrying noxious and poisonous fuels around the world—but in this case, the tradeoff is a familiar one. In Energy & Environmental Science, researchers from Germany explain the reasoning: Since the (optimal) LOHC is liquid at ambient conditions and shows similar properties to crude oil-based liquids (e.g. diesel, and gasoline), handling and storage is realized by well-known processes; thus the stepwise adaptation of the existing crude oil-based infrastructure is basically possible.

That means ideally, using one dangerous petrochemical—methylbenzene is a component of crude oil—for just one leg of the journey will take advantage of the petrochemical supply chain while ultimately delivering clean hydrogen for energy. It’s a tradeoff in a way, but it’s also an innovative repurposing of the old and established industry standards for fossil fuels. The methylbenzene is also reused.

How to power a steel blast furnace using hydrogen?

Perhaps an analogy for this process is product packaging and container shipping. Hydrogen is packed like a product and parceled out onto cargo ships, and having a reusable and standardizedcontainer means experts can at least do their best to make the process as consistent and controlled as possible. By doing this, the Brunei-Japan consortium says it will establish the world’s first hydrogen supply chain.

In the race to transition away from fossil fuels, our near future is likely a patchwork of overlapping renewable fuels—and shippable room-temperature hydrogen could be a big part.

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Source: PopularMechanics


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