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Hydrogen compression technology drives sustainable mobility

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Oil, coal and gas have been the engines that, for several centuries, have allowed the world to advance and improve the socioeconomic conditions of the population.

On the contrary, the burning of fossil fuels has also led to an increase of CO2 in the atmosphere, with all the negative consequences this represents for our planet, starting with climate change.

In this context, a new alternative is now emerging that can help decarbonize the economy: green hydrogen. In addition to being the most abundant chemical element in nature, the main advantage of hydrogen is that its combustion does not emit CO2 but only water vapor.

If it is also produced by electrolysis of water (breaking down the water molecule by applying an electric current), unlike the most widespread method (methane reforming), CO2 is not emitted during this process either. And if the electrical energy used comes from renewable sources, the hydrogen is called green or renewable.

The Bielefeld hydrogen plant

For this reason, more and more companies are betting on the benefits provided by this clean and renewable energy. One of them is Framatome, a European multinational leader in the nuclear sector for more than sixty years, with subsidiaries in twenty-three countries, more than 15,000 employees and a turnover of more than 3,300 million euros. It is also a company strongly committed to the development of technology, innovation, R&D and the decarbonization of the economy.

According to Vicente Soler, Green Hydrogen and Energy Storage manager of Framatome in Spain, “being a priority objective for the company the reduction of greenhouse gases and the decarbonization of the different sectors of the economy, thus contributing to stop the process of climate change, the design and development of technology and customized and turnkey projects for the production, storage and supply of renewable hydrogen is a key line of activity for Framatome”, he says.

In fact, the company has been developing technology and projects in the fields of renewable hydrogen, energy storage and Smart Grid for more than a decade.

During that time Framatome has designed, developed, integrated and commissioned facilities for the production, storage and supply of renewable hydrogen, especially HRS for the mobility sector.

Precisely in this last field, the company has launched a green hydrogen refueling station for sustainable buses in the German city of Bielefeld. Specifically, this hydrogen station has a storage capacity of 1,000 kg of hydrogen, compression from 50 bar to 500 bar, and dispensing at 350 bar for Mobiel’s new buses 24 hours a day.

These hydrogen buses avoid emitting carbon dioxide into the air every day with the use of clean, sustainable and environmentally friendly energy.

Hydrogen compressor

This hydrogen plant could not operate without the KS95 hydrogen compressor supplied by the Spanish company Hiperbaric, the first of its kind to be installed on the international market with 100% Spanish technology. This company from Burgos, which started in the high pressure water business, has diversified its offer to also provide hydrogen-related solutions. “There are very few companies worldwide focused on high-pressure hydrogen compression, which is today one of the challenges for the success of hydrogen as an energy vector, and to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and natural gas,” explains Alejandro Blanco, commercial director of Hiperbaric.

Precisely, Hiperbaric’s good work with hydrogen is what led Framatome to contact this company. “Being a world leading company in fluid compression systems with a great reputation, and having developed equipment capable of compressing hydrogen up to 950 bar pressure, we contacted them to learn about the company, its capabilities and the equipment developed for hydrogen,” explains Soler. From there, he continues, “the decision to acquire the Hiperbaric compressor was simple: it is a very solid company with a long and successful track record in the world of fluid compression systems, which has developed a robust equipment capable of compressing hydrogen at very high pressures, which was exactly what Framatome was looking for,” he acknowledges.

Blanco says, “Hiperbaric’s compression technology solutions are designed with high quality, rugged and reliable components, using materials with advanced properties for maximum strength and safe operation. Hydrogen has to be compressed at very high pressures, between 200 and 950 bar, using innovative technologies in order to be dispensed in a fuel cell vehicle. Specifically, the compressor used is the KS95 model, which has a hydrogen intake pressure of 20-40 bar and a H2 output pressure of up to 950 bar. It incorporates elements specifically designed for hydrogen compression, including a two-stage multiplier cylinder, a hydraulic system,
a cooling system, a venting circuit, a pneumatic circuit and the entire instrumentation and control part of the machine. “The most important component of the compressor unit is the high-pressure multiplier. Hiperbaric’s technology is based on dual-stage multipliers with high hydraulic and cooling efficiency,” says Blanco.

Rockwell technology comes into play

This hydrogen compressor implements different components from Rockwell Automation, whose technology Hiperbaric has been incorporating in its pressurized water machines for several years. “As soon as we started the hydrogen compressor manufacturing project, we decided to enlist the help of Rockwell Automation, a trusted supplier that we have known for a long time and with whom we feel very comfortable working.”

In this project, in particular, they have opted for a complete control system solution from Rockwell Automation with additional safety capabilities, which is essential in a hydrogen compressor, because it is a very unstable gas. In addition to this, according to Blanco, “it is also important to add the issue of Rockwell’s communications ring, which allows the interrelationship between different Rockwell equipment, from the main PLC to other secondary ones. It is very useful for managing a network of different devices within the same equipment,” he says, and adds: “We also value Rockwell’s programming environment, the intuitive interface and its support service for queries and other questions, which is quite agile,” he confirms. With all this technology and Hiperbaric’s experience in the high-pressure market, it is easier to meet the objective that the company had set with the creation of these hydrogen compressors, which is “to offer solutions as efficient as possible; that is, that for every kilogram of hydrogen to be compressed, fewer resources are used,” says Blanco.

All this has also allowed them to give an agile and immediate response to Framatome, which was interested in putting the installation into operation as soon as possible. “This has been thanks to the help and willingness of Hiperbaric, which facilitated and expedited both the agreement for the supply and the delivery of the equipment itself,” says Soler. Added to this is “the reliability and peace of mind that comes from working with a team from a company with Hiperbaric’s experience, which is very important in the first projects in a sector that is still developing”.
All in all, the Bielefeld hydrogen project has been a definite milestone in the renewable hydrogen roadmap for Framatome. “This is the first project we have tackled in the hydrogen field in turnkey EPC format, assuming responsibility and performing the functions of prime contractor…, and it has been successfully achieved,” concludes Soler.

Challenge

The transport company of the German city of Bielefeld (Mobiel) wanted a green hydrogen refueling station (HRS) for its new fuel cell electric vehicles. Mobiel contracted Framatome to carry out the design, construction and commissioning of the HRS. Thanks to its experience in the design and manufacture of compression equipment, Framatome relied on Hiperbaric for the hydrogen compressor unit, developed with Rockwell Automation technology.

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