Friday, November 30, 2007

Hydrogen Production, Storage and Delivery - the Infrastructure

The development of a wide-area hydrogen production infrastructure could take several pathways, the most important of which are centralised production and distributed production. Distributed production includes production at local merchant facilities and on-site production by fuel stations or end users. The alternatives are now being applied and tested in many sites.

Hydrogen can be stored as a compressed gas or as a liquid or in a chemical compound using a variety of technologies, mainly involving storage in metal hydrides. Research is underway into the feasibility of storage in carbon.

There are two options for transport of hydrogen, pipeline or truck, and the hydrogen can be in gas or liquid form. Because the CO2 captured from flue gases is in gaseous form and large capital investments would be needed to construct the cryogenic plant needed for liquefaction or solidification, transportation is likely to be undertaken in the gas phase.

Bulk gaseous transport of CO2 may be undertaken by tanker (road, rail or water and air) or by pipeline, but with the large volumes required for bulk transport, pipeline transmission is the only practicable option. Tanker transport may have a role in smaller demonstration projects of the order of 100-200 kt of CO2 per year and in final distribution.

The existing hydrogen production, storage and delivery facilities are geared toward the industrial process market. The physical infrastructure to support a hydrogen economy would be far larger and will take 10 to 20 years to create. Parts of the existing natural gas delivery system can be converted to carry hydrogen but not all pipelines are suitable. Hundreds of thousands of kilometres of hydrogen pipeline will need to be constructed throughout the world.

The creation of a new energy economy is a gigantic task and to put its magnitude into perspective it is instructive to look at the existing scale of the transport network of the carbon energy economy. Much of the present extraction and processing of hydrocarbons will remain, albeit with new modified technologies for the production of hydrogen. There are 5.9 million km of natural gas pipelines in the world, 65 million km of electricity transmission and distribution lines and a vast network of oil pipelines. There is also a huge infrastructure transporting coal, oil and natural gas by sea, rail and road. The substitution of hydrogen as the world’s energy carrier would entail the creation of a new infrastructure of production and delivery.


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