Hydrogen Delivery Systems

For hydrogen fuel cell and hydrogen internal combustion engine (HICE) vehicles to be utilized, hydrogen must be delivered to locations where the vehicles can be conveniently refueled, and equipment must be available at these sites for the simple, rapid refueling of the vehicles.  Hydrogen can be purchased in bulk and delivered to the refueling sites via tanker trucks (also known as "tube trailers"), or can be produced on site.  Hydrogen pipelines may also be used to bring hydrogen to refueling sites.

Shell hydrogen refueling station in Washington, DC (ISE hybrid HICE bus in foreground).

Currently, the easiest way to deliver hydrogen is by tube trailer from bulk hydrogen manufacturers.  The largest U.S. hydrogen manufacturers are Air Products, Praxair, Air Liquide, and the BOC Group, which collectively operate about 80 hydrogen-producing plants in the U.S.  The majority of hydrogen used in the U.S. is currently delivered by pipeline, but pipeline access is presently limited to a few regions, primarily in California, Texas, Louisiana, and Indiana.  Customers without pipeline access typically take delivery from these suppliers via trucks, which transport the hydrogen either in liquid form for vaporization on site, or in gaseous form via tube trailers.  The easiest way for a hydrogen vehicle operator to receive hydrogen is in gaseous form via tube trailers that are left on site, as no permanent on-site infrastructure is required for vaporization or storage.  However, an on-site compressor and refueling equipment are required to refill high-pressure tanks on the vehicles to be refueled.

While hydrogen transportation via truck allows the use of hydrogen with the lowest up-front investment, it is not practical or cost-effective for long term use or in larger hydrogen vehicle fleets.  In the absence of a national hydrogen pipeline infrastructure, the best near term hydrogen delivery option is on-site hydrogen production.  In the U.S., 95% of hydrogen is currently produced using steam reforming, a thermal process in which hydrogen is extracted from natural gas or other light hydrocarbons by reacting the hydrocarbon with steam.  Small-scale reformers can be installed at refueling sites, which can then use natural gas delivered via pipeline to produce hydrogen.  This is presently the most cost-effective and widely used method used by hydrogen vehicle fleet operators who want to produce hydrogen on site.  However, reforming still requires use of fossil fuels, and as natural gas prices increase, so does the cost of reformed hydrogen.

SunLine Transit hydrogen refueling station in Palm Desert, CA (ElDorado National-ISE hybrid fuel cell bus in background).

A promising alternative to reforming for on-site hydrogen delivery is electrolysis, a process in which hydrogen is extracted from water.  Electrolysis techniques include water electrolysis, which uses a catalyst and membrane to split water into molecules of hydrogen and oxygen, in a process that is essentially the opposite of how a PEM fuel cell converts hydrogen into electric power.  Hydrogenics is a leading supplier of electrolysis systems, having provided hydrogen infrastructure in more than 60% of hydrogen vehicle fueling projects in North America.  A similar electrolysis process is used by Proton Energy Systems, a subsidiary of Distributed Energy Systems Corp., in its electrolysis units.  Electrolysis units are limited in capacity and remain fairly expensive, but larger, more cost-effective electrolysis systems are likely to become available within the next few years.  Some of these may use innovative technologies such as a patented technology developed by Hydrogen Power, Inc. that uses aluminum as a catalyst to inexpensively separate hydrogen from water.

TransPower offers expertise and access to the leading suppliers of hydrogen and hydrogen delivery systems.  In addition to providing hydrogen delivery-related expertise and products, TransPower can assist client-partners in selecting or designing the right hydrogen delivery system for their vehicle fleets.  TransPower’s Preferred Supplier Network includes the leading suppliers of hydrogen delivery systems, and TransPower can provide assistance in obtaining government funding to help finance the acquisition and installation of hydrogen delivery systems

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