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Interview Synopsis

Hydrogen fuelling stations – technical challenges & economics

  • Multi Asset
  • Utilities
  • Global

Hydrogen is being hailed as a gamechanger in the move towards greener energy. To explore developments relating to fuelling stations, including their economics and safety concerns, Third Bridge Forum interviewed a former chief engineer from Great Wall Motor Co Ltd.

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Hydrogen fuel stations: from components to construction considerations

Out of the key considerations for planning a fuelling station, the specialist explained, “first and foremost would be site location”. This affects the cost of electricity, which in turn determines the technology used, and availability of hydrogen. 

Another vital element is the cooling method, as hydrogen undergoes a reverse Joule-Thomson effect and heats up “significantly”. “A lot of companies are using cryogenic CO2 to pre-cool it, and then there are other methods as well, but in order to do back-to-back fills… you have to increase the size of your pre-cooling method. That can get very costly.”

When asked about potential supply bottlenecks for compressors, the specialist noted that there should be no problems and listed some of the companies making these. “That being said, the compressors are known to be problematic at some of these stations. The diaphragms, they get weak just because of the amount of pressure, the heat.”

Indeed, there is a range of safety concerns surrounding hydrogen fuel owing to that latter point. “You’re dealing with high pressure, you’re dealing with flammable gas, you’re dealing with electrical components and rotating machinery”. However, compared with some other forms of energy, there are markedly fewer incidents. In addition, although it has a lower explosive limit than natural gas, “when it’s released, it travels upwards at nearly 50 miles an hour. It dissipates almost immediately.”  

Hydrogen fuel demand will be largely driven by medium- and heavy-duty vehicle uptake. “The light duty, it’s hard to make a profit off these stations because you just don’t have the amount of vehicles, and a single car takes about five kilograms to fill… If you have a bus, those buses will utilise probably 90% of the hydrogen every day, and a typical bus takes about 30 kilograms of hydrogen. Same with the trucks.”

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