A viable hydrogen infrastructure requires that hydrogen be able to be delivered from where it's produced to the point of end-use, such as a dispenser at a refueling station or stationary power site. Infrastructure includes the pipelines, trucks, storage facilities, compressors, and dispensers involved in the process of delivering fuel.
Delivery technology for hydrogen infrastructure is currently available commercially, and several U.S. companies deliver bulk hydrogen today. Some of the infrastructure is already in place because hydrogen has long been used in industrial applications, but it's not sufficient to support widespread consumer use of hydrogen as an energy carrier.
Why Study Hydrogen Delivery
Hydrogen is not just the smallest element on earth, it is also the lightest—as a point of comparison, the mass one gallon of gasoline is approximately 2.75 kg where one gallon of hydrogen has a mass of only 0.00075 kg (at 1 atm pressure and 0°C). In order to transport large amounts of hydrogen it must be either pressurized and delivered as a compressed gas, or liquefied.
Where the hydrogen is produced can have a big impact on the cost and best method of delivery. For example, a large, centrally located hydrogen production facility can produce hydrogen at a lower cost because it is producing more, but it costs more to deliver the hydrogen because the point of use is farther away. In comparison, distributed production facilities produce hydrogen on site so delivery costs are relatively low, but the cost to produce the hydrogen is likely to be higher because production volumes are less.
How Hydrogen Delivery Works
Today, hydrogen is transported from the point of production to the point of use via pipeline, over the road in cryogenic liquid tanker trucks or gaseous tube trailers, or by rail or barge. Hydrogen used in portable or stationary applications can be delivered by truck to a storage facility or in cylinders, similar to the propane used for gas grills, or in cartridges that would resemble a battery. Hydrogen used in fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) is dispensed very much the way gasoline is. Drivers pull into a filling station, connect the dispenser to the vehicle, fill, disconnect, pay, and then drive away with a full tank. Refueling an FCEV takes approximately the same amount of time as refueling a gasoline powered car—3–5 minutes.
Learn more about the following hydrogen delivery, on-site storage, and dispensing technologies:
- Gaseous hydrogen
- Liquid hydrogen
- Novel hydrogen carriers
- On-site and bulk storage
- Dispensing hydrogen fuel to vehicles.
Research and Development Goals
Delivery technology for hydrogen infrastructure is currently available commercially, and several U.S. companies deliver bulk hydrogen today. Some of the infrastructure is already in place because hydrogen has long been used in industrial applications, but it's not sufficient to support widespread consumer use of hydrogen as an energy carrier. Because hydrogen has a relatively low volumetric energy density, its transportation, storage, and final delivery to the point of use comprise a significant cost and result in some of the energy inefficiencies associated with using it as an energy carrier. View related links that provide details about U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)-funded hydrogen delivery activities.
Key challenges to hydrogen delivery include reducing delivery cost, increasing energy efficiency, maintaining hydrogen purity, and minimizing hydrogen leakage. Further research is needed to analyze the trade-offs between the hydrogen production options and the hydrogen delivery options when considered together as a system.
Building a national hydrogen delivery infrastructure is also a big challenge. It will take time to develop and will likely include combinations of various technologies. Delivery infrastructure needs and resources will vary by region and type of market—for example, urban, interstate, or rural. Infrastructure options will also evolve as the demand for hydrogen grows and as delivery technologies develop and improve.
On April 30, 2014, the Energy Department announced the launch of a new project leveraging the capabilities of its National Laboratories in direct support of H2USA. The project is led by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) and will tackle the technical challenges related to hydrogen fueling infrastructure. The Hydrogen Fueling Infrastructure Research and Station Technology (H2FIRST) project is designed to reduce the cost and time of fueling station construction, increase station availability, and improve reliability by creating opportunities for industry partners to pool knowledge and resources to overcome hurdles. The project was established by FCTO, drawing on existing and emerging core capabilities at the national labs.