Hydrogen is a versatile energy carrier that will serve the transition to a zero-carbon economy in many industries. It is already widely used in the chemical and refining industries. The first implementations can also be found in the metallurgical, energy, glass and cement industries.
The most mature and widespread applications of hydrogen can be found in the field of transportation - from forklifts, cars, buses and trains, ships to airplanes and space rockets. The development of this technology will be supported by EU funds, which has focused on hydrogen in its energy transition strategy.
About 90 percent of hydrogen is produced and used in the fertilizer and refining industries. Hydrogen is also produced as a by-product in the chemical industry. The future lies in producing hydrogen from renewable sources - primarily by electrolysis, but also by biomass gasification
Only 15 percent of global hydrogen production is used off-site and transported as compressed gas or cryogenic liquid. This implies investment in infrastructure - from storage, pipeline transmission to liquefaction or transport as compressed gas.
Hydrogen valleys are regional ecosystems. The development will be based on the local production of hydrogen, which is transported over short distances. The basis is local demand based on the production of energy from renewable sources. This changing perspective will include education, research and development, implementation and industrial applications.
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Hydrogen is a versatile energy carrier with a wide range of applications. Its undeniable advantage is that it can be stored. Unlike, for example, electricity, hydrogen can be stored for a long time in significant quantities. However, this requires suitable storage tanks, and the infrastructure currently in use for storing natural gas, for example, does not have the necessary parameters of an adequate quality. For example, compressed natural gas (CNG) tanks can store as little as 5 per cent hydrogen.
Hydrogen is stored as compressed gas or in liquid, cryogenic form. This procedure makes it possible to increase energy density, but requires cooling to temperatures as low as -253 °C. Maintaining such conditions, in turn, requires large amounts of energy. Furthermore, storing hydrogen in liquid form requires the use of multi-layered tanks containing a vacuum layer and equipped with safety valves and appropriate thermal insulation. Hybrid methods are also in use, i.e. hydrogen in semi-liquid form (so-called slush) or cooled to -235°C and compressed to 30 MPa. Hydrogen can also be mixed with natural gas, as well as combined with organic carriers and ammonia.
Hydrogen storage tanks can be divided into 4 basic groups:
tanks for passenger cars,
tanks for larger vehicles (trains, buses, trucks),
small tanks for portable electric devices powered by fuel cells.
Hydrogen penetrates most materials, so the interiors of tanks must be made to form an effective barrier. This provides them with the right structure to resist mechanical damage.
High-pressure tanks can withstand much higher pressure than the nominal value. For example, in the case of the Toyota Mirai passenger car, the tank can withstand as much as 225% of the nominal pressure. Such a tank is made of a layer of aluminium, a layer with helically twisted fibres and a layer with rim-shaped fibres. Composite tanks consist of a special anti-impact layer, an outer composite layer, an inner layer made of carbon fibre and a polymer layer. This makes the tanks extremely safe.
The pressure at which hydrogen is stored depends on the end use. Passenger cars usually use tanks with a pressure of 70 MPa, which corresponds to 700 bar. Buses and trains use 35 MPa, or 350 bar. If hydrogen is transported over longer distances, it can be stored in a tank capable of holding the gas in liquefied form.
The storage density of liquid hydrogen is approx. 71 kg per 1 m3, but this means additional costs in the form of 25-35 per cent of the hydrogen needed to cool it down. Therefore, this option is only viable for long-distance transport. A standard car-tanker combination can be refuelled with 300-500 kg of compressed hydrogen gas at a pressure of 200-250 bar. Modern tanks make it possible to load 900 kg of compressed hydrogen gas at a pressure of 500 bar or 3500 kg of liquid hydrogen at a time. Liquid hydrogen can also be transported in containerised tanks on ships or trains, or even in 'ordinary' lorries.
Supervision of hydrogen containers is exercised by the Transport Technical Supervision under the Act on Technical Supervision of 21 December 2000.Such tanks may only be used on the basis of an appropriate decision issued by the Director of the Transport Technical Supervision.
Requirements for testing and operation of specialised pressure equipment, including hydrogen tanks, are set out in the Regulation on Specialised Pressure Equipment, the so-called SUC Regulation. Under this name is the Regulation of the Minister of Transport of 20 October 2006 on the technical conditions for technical supervision in the design, manufacture, operation, repair and modernisation of specialised pressure equipment (Journal of Laws of 2014, item 1465).
Hydrogen tanks are subject to testing by the TDT. The SUC regulation clearly specifies that during the operation of this type of equipment, which is a source of power for engines in vehicles, periodic and ad hoc tests must be carried out. The latter are performed as: external and internal inspections, pressure and tightness tests. The deadline for the technical inspection of a hydrogen tank is set at 10 years with regard to the internal inspection and pressure test, i.e. similarly to the LPG tank popular in passenger cars. Once a year, they should undergo an external inspection and a leak test.
In the case of a serious collision or vehicle failure involving a hydrogen tank, they should be removed and submitted for emergency testing. In order for them to continue to operate, there must be no signs of deformation or other mechanical damage and a positive result of the test conducted by the OTD after such an event.