The Production and Storage of Liquid Hydrogen

April 1, 2022

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Presenting at the 2nd American Hydrogen Forum, Cody Bateman, GenH2’s CEO, focused on Liquid Hydrogen, a pathway to growing a cleaner future and the Hydrogen economy. Here is the key take aways from his Production and storage of Liquid Hydrogen presentation.

Liquid Hydrogen Beginnings

The early use of large-scale Liquid Hydrogen was with the Space program as a powerful rocket propellant – it is the lowest molecular weight of any known substance, burns with extreme intensity with an oxidizer and is a powerful energy carrier. Referencing the Centaur Program in 1962, using Liquid Hydrogen was considered “Taming the Beast”.  NASA successfully utilized large scale storage infrastructure tanks (still to this date) to support the missions, and this has been included in some of the top accomplishments of NASA.   These accomplishments and knowledge base developed by NASA can now be commercialized, built upon, improved and advanced to build out infrastructure from lab-scale, small-scale, mid-scale to large-scale for the masses across the U.S. and the world.

State of Hydrogen Production

There are currently only about a dozen large scale gaseous hydrogen production sites, but there will be 20-30 of these massive sites in the next few years. The key is though, in the hydrogen world, we also require lab scale, which means small amounts of hydrogen are needed to do the initial testing, certification and validation of the different technologies. Going from gaseous to liquid hydrogen is more difficult; gaseous hydrogen has to be further liquefied, densified by a process of liquefaction at 20.3 K.  Lab scale liquid hydrogen availability continues to lag in the U.S., while in Asia and Europe, small quantities, especially liquid hydrogen, is actually more available. Moving ahead, the U.S. will need both massive high scale production, and small-scale production, plus efficient liquefaction for labs.

Timeline for Hydrogen

Hydrogen is going to take off by the 2030s, and by the 2050s it will be going through not only the big hubs, but the smaller units as well.  Regarding green hydrogen, we have to look at other forms of production – such as solar.  New and emerging technologies are constantly coming to the forefront. In fact, an interesting project by a group at MIT called Hydrogen Tactical Refueling Point (H-TaRP) and for USMC that was recently in the news demonstrated how it can be used to produce hydrogen in a remote location. They developed a new way of looking at hydrogen production using aluminum – which can be taken out to a field in a backpack – to create hydrogen for possible drone use which is really exciting.

To accelerate the timeline, GenH2 is concentrating on liquefaction and storage, and constantly researching innovative ways to produce hydrogen, and especially to generate a greener form of turquoise hydrogen and a green hydrogen –there are exciting new developments on that process. There are also new tools and techniques being developed to monitor and make hydrogen safer.

The Case for Liquid Hydrogen

Why would we focus on liquid hydrogen even though so many are focusing on gas? The bottom line is hydrogen is hard, and liquid hydrogen is even harder. But the key is power density. It is very important to have as much power density as possible in the smallest area possible, and liquid hydrogen offers greater power density, thus requiring less space to transport and store.

The second point is increased safety, and the industry is acknowledging that liquid hydrogen is safer than gaseous. And finally, it is a very intensive use of energy to produce liquid hydrogen and then store it long term, therefore each storage solution needs to be customized.

Liquid Hydrogen Vehicles

Although passenger cars get most of the publicity when it comes to alternative fuel usage, liquid hydrogen is the best solution for three other applications, starting with heavy duty vehicles. Secondly, for electric trains, which currently use diesel engines to generate electricity in order to run forward. Because light rail systems are in urban areas, the goal is to minimize pollution which makes light rail a perfect fit for liquid hydrogen. Similar to trucks, the size and space of fuel storage comes into play and the ability to have liquid hydrogen on board makes hydrogen-powered light rail systems closer to fruition and they are a lot more likely to happen sooner than most expect. Another application is cruise and carrier ships – not just shipping hydrogen, but actually using hydrogen on board.

A fourth use is on the horizon: drones running on liquid hydrogen – in both military and commercial use. In June, GenH2 will break the 12-hour world record of the longest drone flight using liquid hydrogen while carrying a five-kilo payload.

Building Liquid Hydrogen Filling Stations

When the first gaseous hydrogen filling stations were developed on test mode, they lined up three fuel cell vehicles, filled them up, drove about 100 yards, and they all stopped. The issue was that the purity level required for the fuel cells was significantly higher than what they anticipated. Liquefying hydrogen makes it very pure, so for filling stations, especially for planes, trains, and trash trucks, the very clean hydrogen required is guaranteed in liquid form.

The cost of purifying gaseous hydrogen is expensive, and creating liquid hydrogen is also difficult and expensive. However, the net-net value of creating liquid hydrogen is actually less costly. When you take into consideration the expenses associated with generating gaseous hydrogen, you have to add not only costs for gas storage, but also for the purification that is then required. Thus, liquid hydrogen becomes more cost effective.

Liquid hydrogen storage is the key to the future of hydrogen filling stations, and it has been around for decades in the Space program. The hard part for liquid storage is not when it is large scale, it is when you scale it down. Smaller footprints are necessary because gas stations cannot afford huge 10+ ton units.  The challenge was: how do you do the impossible of storing quantities below five tons?  GenH2 has done the “impossible,” and also designed a 1.2-ton unit as well.

The Future of Liquid Hydrogen is Now

Big oil and gas companies such as Shell are partners in creating new liquid hydrogen solutions. The path forward is collaboration and coming together in building the growing hydrogen economy with a unified message. My challenge to hydrogen companies is, as you move forward, do what you do best, promote what you know is good, but also understand your limitations.

Having a unified industry message is just emerging, which is excellent, not only as an industry, but for the outside world. Therefore, in content and at conferences, everything needs a unified language that walks the talk of the hydrogen economy.

It’s very exciting for those working on building the hydrogen economy to share information, experiences, safety, upcoming regulations, and everything else, moving forward. But it’s also important to communicate with those outside the industry, especially those less hydrogen-savvy.  As more people evangelize about the green economy and going green, it is exciting to see the passion growing for liquid hydrogen. The hydrogen future is here.



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