Sandy Van den Broeck
Director Product Management and Strategic Group Projects
There‘s a lot of buzz around hydrogen applications. What‘s your stance on it?
Today, hydrogen is garnering attention as a promising alternative energy source. Even though over 90% of hydrogen used in industrial applications is derived from fossil fuels with substantial CO2 release, the rising interest lies in green hydrogen. Generated using only water and renewable energy through electrolysis, green hydrogen can play a key role as an alternative to fossil-fuel energy. It has a high energy content, three times that of diesel by weight, but requires larger storage due to its higher volumetric content. It has diverse uses, from direct fuel for electricity generation in fuel cells to a base for other fuels, chemicals, or alternative storage forms.
What are the challenges in sealing hydrogen?
The unique properties of hydrogen, including its colorlessness, odorlessness, tastelessness, non-toxicity, and high flammability, necessitate zero leakage. At elevated temperatures and pressures, hydrogen can cause problems like hydrogen embrittlement, high-temperature hydrogen attack, and hydrogen blistering, particularly with carbon and low alloy steels.
How is hydrogen leak rate currently regulated?
Presently, there are no specific regulations or test standards for hydrogen fugitive emissions. The US Clean Air Act (CAA) and the German TA-Luft are two applicable laws that set limits to fugitive emissions, especially volatile organic compounds. Standards and specifications like ISO 15848 1 and 2, Shell MESC 77 – 300/312, and API 622 also provide guidance.
What gaskets or sealing solutions do you recommend for hydrogen?
Low fugitive emission gaskets and packings, which have been in use for decades, are typically employed to seal hydrogen. Manufacturers often conduct leakage testing on fully assembled valves with high-pressure helium because it closely simulates operating conditions due to its similar atomic size to hydrogen.
Is hydrogen just another media to seal then?
It all depends on the physical phase where hydrogen is being used. If hydrogen will be sea transported then its volume needs to be highly compressed to the liquid phase at -253°C, which could be detrimental to the sealing element. Valve manufacturers however have already anticipated to this by extending the stem length to move the sealing element away from the cryogenic temperature. Hydrogen can then be transported via modified pipelines as LOHC (liquid organic hydrogen compounds). Ammonia or methanol is used as liquid carrier under ambient conditions to destination plant where Hydrogen is released from its carrier.
Leakage tests conducted over the last couple of years have shown that the outcome is in line with Helium leakage rates. Burgmann Packings recommends therefore primarily Fugitive Emission Control (FEC) solutions for hydrogen applications to guarantee lowest leakage rates.
What does the future hold for hydrogen?
By 2030, green hydrogen is expected to become cost-competitive, with costs predicted to decrease by 70%. It will play a crucial role in balancing the electricity system and expanding into new sectors like land, sea, and air transport. By 2030, hydrogen is projected to become an intrinsic part of the EU energy system, with investments in electrolysers reaching between € 24–42 billion. Green hydrogen‘s contribution will be significant in meeting climate goals by reducing our dependency on fossil fuels.