Behind the scenes of Hydrogen Refueling Stations are these high-pressure storage vessels

Recently LA Services completed a hydrogen storage vessel for a renown automotive manufacturer as part of a pilot re-fueling station. The project posed design challenges that are new to the fabrication industry, but the timing is perfect for a traditional metal trade manufacturer to enter the alternative fuel cell conversation.

We thought of starting with some basics to educate our reader about hydrogen energy and provide an overview of what it means for the future of transport.

What is hydrogen energy?

Hydrogen is the most common chemical in the universe. Hydrogen has many uses as an energy source such as fuel for transport or heating, a way to store electricity, or a raw material in industrial processes.

Hydrogen energy can be stored as a gas and even delivered through existing natural gas pipelines. When converted to a liquid or another suitable material, hydrogen can also be transported on trucks and in ships. This means hydrogen can also be exported overseas, effectively making it a tradable energy commodity.

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How is hydrogen produced?

Even though most of the hydrogen production infrastructure currently utilises fossil fuels in some manner emitting carbon dioxide as a byproduct, hydrogen has the potential to be a clean fuel when produced entirely from renewable energy sources.

The infrastructure to produce and distribute hydrogen is currently expensive, but research to develop more cost effective methods continues globally.

A recent report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) offers key recommendations to help governments, companies and others to seize this chance to enable clean hydrogen to fulfil its long-term potential. One of these recommendations is supporting R&D to bring down costs.

Hydrogen powered electric vehicles

While industrial processes are the dominating consumer of hydrogen energy, transport also has the opportunity for hydrogen based fuel cells becoming competitive. Hydrogen powered fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) have been getting a lot of serious attention as a counterpart to battery powered electric vehicles, particularly because of the huge potential in producing hydrogen from renewable energy sources like wind, water and solar energy.

“It’s estimated by experts there’ll be two billion electric vehicles by 2045. Two billion. Half of these vehicles will be powered by hydrogen fuel cells.”

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The Hydrogen Landscape in Australia

In Australia, a $300 million Advancing Hydrogen Fund has been announced to primarily boost production and exports of the gas, but the government’s most significant hydrogen handout to date is available to finance any projects that align with the National Hydrogen Strategy.

The Strategy sets a path to build Australia’s hydrogen industry with a plan to accelerate the commercialisation of hydrogen, reduce technical uncertainties and build up domestic supply chains and production capabilities. A strong domestic hydrogen sector will underpin Australia’s exporting capabilities, allowing us to become a leading global hydrogen player. 

Hydrogen fuel-cell trucks are 10 months away from launch in Australia as US-based Hyzon Motors recently began its export drive of zero-emission heavy-duty vehicles.

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Developing a Hydrogen Refuelling Station(HRS) Pressure Vessel

One of the primary components in a hydrogen refuelling station is the pressure vessel which stores the hydrogen gas.

Recently LA Services undertook a design and manufacture project for one such pressure vessel of 18,500 litres capacity

Challenges posed by a new technology 

Since hydrogen is a tiny molecule, it is prone to leak through poor joints and between poorly selected materials. Also, thorough understanding of the storage tank’s operating conditions is necessary during the design stage. 

The team of engineers behind LA services dealt with several additional design and safety factors during this project. “A pressure vessel servicing refuelling will subject the vessel to daily pressure fluctuations” says Raaid Allam, a former project engineer at LA Services.

“The volume of hydrogen leaving the vessel while refueling and then re-entering while re-filling the vessel will generate daily pressure cycles. Due to the cyclic service and the presence of Hydrogen, it was essential to perform multiple design assessments and to prove a high level of safety. To satisfy our concerns, a combination of fatigue analysis, fracture mechanics assessments and crack propagation assessments were carried out.”

Using Finite Element Analysis (FEA) and while taking into account the previously mentioned assessments, the team was able to come up with the optimum design. 

A new generation solution to a new problem

While projects like this pose new challenges for LA Services, they are an opportunity to transfer established pressure equipment design and ‘manufacturing knowhow’. Fresh young talent are an important addition to the fabrication and welding space ensuring this manufacturing industry will be sustained. Capability growth across the engineering and trades that underpin the industry helps to secure an Australian based pressure equipment supply chain capable of servicing the future needs of energy production as it transitions towards a sustainable future.