Japanese metals giant Nippon Steel has made a significant breakthrough in the development of a new type of stainless steel that can withstand contact with liquefied hydrogen.
With the increasing demand for hydrogen refueling stations in Japan, Nippon Steel aims to capture the market by offering a durable and reliable material that can prevent leaks and ensure the safe transportation of hydrogen. The company has already initiated shipments of the new steel and anticipates full-scale sales in the near future.
Steel has historically been prone to brittleness when exposed to hydrogen, which poses a challenge for the construction of hydrogen refueling stations. Nippon Steel has previously achieved success in creating an alloy that resists damage from hydrogen gas by modifying the composition of chromium, manganese, and other components. With their latest product, the company has further adjusted the steel’s composition to withstand exposure to liquefied hydrogen, which is colder.
While the current number of stations equipped to handle liquefied hydrogen shipments is limited, the demand for this form of hydrogen is expected to rise due to its significantly reduced volume compared to hydrogen gas. The ability of Nippon Steel’s steel to endure lower temperatures is expected to contribute to the wider adoption of liquefied hydrogen and facilitate the construction of new refueling stations.
Although the new steel may not possess the same level of strength as conventional stainless steel used in hydrogen stations, it still exhibits approximately 40% greater strength than ordinary products. However, the enhanced performance comes at a higher cost. Balancing strength, cost, and durability will be crucial for the widespread acceptance of Nippon Steel’s steel in the market.
The Japanese government has set a target of establishing 1,000 hydrogen refueling stations nationwide by 2030. The current count of around 160 stations is primarily due to the slow adoption of fuel-cell vehicles (FCVs). However, as FCVs gain popularity, particularly in commercial applications such as trucks and buses, the demand for hydrogen refueling stations is expected to increase. The availability of materials like Nippon Steel’s steel will play a vital role in lowering installation and operating costs, thereby encouraging the expansion of the hydrogen refueling infrastructure.
While the demand for steel in Japan is projected to decline due to a shrinking population, Nippon Steel aims to navigate the changing landscape by focusing on high value-added products, such as the hydrogen-resistant stainless steel. Additionally, as the industry moves towards decarbonization, steelmakers face the challenge of reducing emissions. The development of innovative materials and participation in emerging fields, such as hydrogen technology, will be critical for steelmakers to secure future profitability and contribute to the efforts of decarbonization.