In a groundbreaking collaboration, Japan’s JFE Steel and Exxon Mobil have joined forces to develop high-pressure hydrogen pipeline technology, aiming to establish industry standards as the demand for hydrogen rises, particularly in the United States.

This pioneering project seeks to create pipelines capable of transporting large quantities of hydrogen over long distances, withstanding pressures up to 20 megapascals, a significant advancement compared to the current low-pressure hydrogen pipelines used in chemical plants.

The partnership between JFE Steel and Exxon Mobil marks a world-first endeavor in the field of high-pressure hydrogen pipelines. While low-pressure hydrogen pipelines found in overseas chemical plants can handle pressures of several megapascals, the development of durable materials and standardized testing methods for high-pressure applications has remained a challenge.

To overcome this hurdle, JFE Steel will commence development activities this autumn at its research facility in Chiba, near Tokyo. The project will involve the installation of a 41 cm diameter electric resistance welded steel pipe, equipped with 2-centimeter thick walls, within a testing apparatus. This setup will allow researchers to collect essential data on the material strength required for high-pressure hydrogen transportation.

Upon successful development, Exxon Mobil will undertake the task of obtaining certification for the technology under U.S. industrial standards, solidifying its credibility and paving the way for widespread adoption.

One critical aspect of high-pressure hydrogen pipelines is the need for materials that can withstand the brittleness caused by hydrogen exposure. By identifying the optimal diameter and thickness for these pipelines, JFE Steel aims to expedite the commercialization process, potentially bringing the technology to market within the next one to two years.

In fiscal year 2023, the project’s research and development expenses are estimated to be around 25 million yen ($180,000). The nonprofit organization Nippon Foundation, based in Tokyo, will provide subsidies to support the initiative. Once the high-pressure hydrogen pipeline technology is commercialized, Exxon Mobil plans to consider implementing it in its hydrogen projects, including the construction of one of the world’s largest clean hydrogen plants in Texas. This facility aims to capture carbon dioxide emissions during hydrogen production from natural gas.

The International Energy Agency projects that global clean hydrogen production, which stood at less than 1 million tonnes in 2021, will surge to 24 million tonnes by 2030 if ongoing projects materialize. President Joe Biden’s administration is actively promoting decarbonization efforts and has allocated at least $7 billion to support hydrogen production, including various “clean” hydrogen initiatives.

The potential applications for high-pressure hydrogen pipelines extend beyond power plants. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently proposed regulations that would require gas-fired power plants to co-fire with hydrogen. Furthermore, these pipelines are expected to facilitate the transportation of hydrogen from production sites to remote power plants and factories.

JFE Steel’s extensive experience in corrosion-resistant steel pipes, which dominate the market, along with their deployment in offshore oil fields and resource development projects in Alaska, positions the company as a key player in driving the advancement of high-pressure hydrogen pipeline technology.

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