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The Role of Bulk Gas Transportation to Enable the ‘Fuel of the Future’

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The latest UN Climate Change Conference, better known as COP26, has seen the eyes of the world firmly fixed on the climate crisis. 

The summit has stimulated important conversations in key governmental and commercial circles, with topics spanning everything from securing net zero economies by the middle of the century and keeping the 1.5ºC warming target within reach, to mobilising finance and protecting communities and natural habitats. 

However, despite the conference yielding many new commitments, initiatives and agreements, significant challenges remain. As BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy 2021 report states, oil continues to hold the largest share of the energy mix at 31.2%, while coal is the second-largest, accounting for around 27.2%.Given the continued reliance on fossil fuels, making tangible progress to harness alternative sources has never been more important. The good news is that greener, cleaner forms of energy are both attainable and attractive. In fact, a 2021 study from Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts that the use of renewable electricity in hydrogen production will see fuel costs decline by as much as 85% by 2050.

A roadmap for accessible hydrogen

Infrastructure is arguably the most critical piece of the puzzle for hydrogen take-up, but hydrogen pipelines will not be a reality for most within 20 years, and there is no ambition to reach every hydrogen user. There is debate about using ammonia as a medium for carrying hydrogen over long distances. 

However, as ammonia is highly toxic, there are risks inherent with handling it. Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of poisonous liquid sitting in a UK port, such as Southampton, will be a challenging sell. Using liquid hydrogen to increase transport efficiency through upping energy density is a great opportunity but requires a huge amount of investment in technology development to overcome gaps in know-how and practicalities of storing and handling liquid hydrogen.

Where no gas networks exist, bulk gas transportation cylinder systems filled with high pressure hydrogen, help local governments, energy firms and gas distribution networks meet demand, and in our view, bulk gas transportation modules are the only solution that is broadly viable. 

Luxfer has recently announced a multi-million pound partnership with Octopus Hydrogen, to design and supply bulk gas transport modules that will carry green hydrogen across the UK from mid-2022. In development right now, these 40-foot Multiple Element Gas Containers (MEGC) can hold around 1.1 tonnes of hydrogen – that’s the equivalent of filling up and running 16 buses over a total of 5,800 miles.

There is an ambition over the next 5-10 years to turn the UK into a massive green hydrogen-producing hub. Indeed, the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out a vision for the UK to be the ‘Qatar of hydrogen’. In order to turn this into a reality, energy companies need to carry as much hydrogen as possible across roads, rail and water. It’s about getting the hydrogen from the production site to the point of use, in a safe and cost-efficient way. But that doesn’t mean companies like Luxfer don’t offer more compact options too – we’re designing solutions with a smaller footprint, such as 20-foot containers, that are ideal for when less hydrogen is required.

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Making waves with hydrogen

Importantly, bulk gas transportation (BGT) isn’t confined to the backs of lorries and trailers, and we’re working in a range of areas to innovate at moving hydrogen to where it’s needed. Take coastal cities, for instance. Here, BGT ships can deliver hydrogen across the seas, and smaller vessels can then transport the fuel down estuaries to deliver to fillings stations and depots.

Marine solutions allow for the movement of vast quantities of hydrogen into densely populated areas, without exacerbating congestion and pollution problems on the already-stretched UK road network, and this is particularly vital in major cities. A key difference for hydrogen fuel over oil and gas is that the model for its production and distribution will not be as centralised. Hydrogen represents a departure from giant refineries transporting over hundreds of miles, huge pipelines from overseas, and a single interconnected gas network. Producing hydrogen will be localised for regions, towns or even factories, with hundreds of hubs across the UK in the near future. In most cases hydrogen will be made less than 50 miles from point of use. For example, the hydrogen ecosystem planned at Thames Estuary can deliver supply via the river right into central London.

Many ports, including Antwerp, the biggest port area in the world, have announced decarbonisation strategies too – and directly delivering hydrogen fuels to them via BGT ships will support them in meeting sustainability targets, especially when these ships themselves can be powered by zero emission fuel systems.

In fact, Luxfer is lending its alternative fuel expertise to power the world’s first hydrogen work boat, in partnership with Compagnie Maritime Belge (CMB), which is also based in Antwerp. And we’re working on the world’s first hydrogen tugboat for Antwerp Harbour. These are just a few of the hydrogen storage projects that will help enable the marine market to decarbonise, but it will be 2023/24 when people will begin to see this change in action.

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A Luxfer legacy from oxygen to hydrogen

Of course, high pressure gas containment demands the utmost standards of safety and quality, and Luxfer’s proven track record is a key reason why the company is leading the market. Luxfer has an 80-year history in cylinder technology, with its presence in the alternative fuels sector underpinned by considerable legacy in healthcare, offering the smallest and most lightweight oxygen cylinders – with over 15 million alternative fuel cylinders in operation today.

Our success in providing alternative fuel systems represents our third major exploration of the hydrogen market, but the appetite wasn’t as evident in the early 2000s and around 2012/13. This means that our latest designs are based on the work of Luxfer engineers from 15 years ago, updated to embed the very latest in cylinder technology. Luxfer has essentially been a ‘sleeping giant’ for two decades, putting in the work behind the scenes and applying what we’ve learnt along the way, honing our capabilities so we’re ready. Today it is a hugely competitive environment. Some companies that are new on the block are keen to make headway into hydrogen storage solutions, but one might say it can be difficult to grasp in 18 months the knowhow that’s evolved through 80 years.

Applying the very latest cylinder technology

Innovation is at the heart of Luxfer, and a new cylinder range specific to this market is currently being developed. We have transferred our trusted, proprietary technology over to the bulk gas transport market in the form of our Type 3 cylinder.

This cylinder features a Luxfer-manufactured aluminium liner, fully over-wrapped with aerospace-grade carbon fibre. This choice might seem counterintuitive to using a Type 4 cylinder with a polymer liner, because our Type 3 cylinder is heavier than a Type 4. But, crucially, the high thermal conductivity of our aluminium liner helps remove heat from the gas generated during the filling process. The heat produced in a fast-fill could damage a Type 4 polymer-lined cylinder. To circumvent this you’d need to chill the gas or slow down the filling time – and companies want a speedy turnaround.

Importantly, with Type 3 technology, all of the hydrogen involved in the system can be utilised, with no wastage. All round they’re the right solution because they are more robust, fill faster, won’t leak, and therefore they increase the asset value of the entire system. Plus, Luxfer’s G-Stor cylinders are among the highest-capacity, lightest-weight Type 3 alternative fuel cylinders in the world.

What’s exciting is there is a real opportunity for the hydrogen revolution to gather momentum, and the increasing demand we’re seeing supports that. We’re not just talking about it, but bringing a viable solution to market, with a credible technology that right now is in its infancy, and will increase exponentially from 2023.

We’re working quickly, but that lead time is due to a robust programme of testing and approval to meet the highest safety standards. Luxfer teams in Canada, America and the United Kingdom are collaborating in what is a huge team effort to design and produce BGT systems. It’s true co-creation.

Other companies want to get involved given the demand, and we see this as positive. It drives forward innovation, and we welcome that – it will further advance the hydrogen revolution that we will play a part in.

And it encompasses a wide range of areas. For example, we’re working with a number of organisations that are pioneering the adaption of internal combustion engines to work on 100% hydrogen, which is a completely difference proposition for all the engines and motors in fleets around the world.

The technology is evolving daily to create the environment that will enable a hydrogen economy to prosper. While we have made huge strides forward in this sector, Luxfer isn’t stopping here. We have a great ambition to push this technology, helping deploy hydrogen on a game changing scale – safely of course – and we have the right expertise to do it.


Author - Keith Croysdale, Business Development Manager at Luxfer Gas Cylinders.

Publisher - GasWorld


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