[CHANGING WORLD] Hydrogen is the fuel of the future, other than a few small hitches

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[CHANGING WORLD] Hydrogen is the fuel of the future, other than a few small hitches

Liquid hydrogen carrier being developed by Hyundai Mipo Dockyards, Korea Shipbuilding & Offshore Engineering and others. [HYUNDAI HEAVY INDUSTRIES]

Liquid hydrogen carrier being developed by Hyundai Mipo Dockyards, Korea Shipbuilding & Offshore Engineering and others. [HYUNDAI HEAVY INDUSTRIES]



HYDROGEN ECONOMY 

 
Hydrogen is often hailed as the fuel of the future, one that will ultimately replace fossil fuels and make the earth greener.  
 
Unlike natural gas and coal, hydrogen produces neither pollutants nor carbon dioxide (CO2) when burned. Water is its only by-product.  
 
Volatile supply is also not a concern for this fuel because it is the most abundant element in the universe. It is free of the main drawback of other renewable energy sources, which is their high dependence on the weather and terrain.  
 
Deployment of hydrogen as a fuel is expected to cut up to 34 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, according to a study by BloombergNEF.
 
Regardless of its prospects, hydrogen as a fuel is still more hope than reality due to high costs and technological hurdles.  
 
Korea has been trying to get a jump on the world in the race toward the hydrogen future, establishing a "hydrogen economy" as a national goal since 2019.
 
Over a dozen major Korean companies came together recently to form a committee and pledged to cooperate to take an upper hand in the global race toward achieving an economy where hydrogen is used as the main fuel. They pledged 43 trillion won of investment in the development of the hydrogen ecosystem by 2050.
 
There are largely four main components to the hydrogen economy — manufacturing, storing, transporting and utilizing — and without a balanced development of each step, the hydrogen economy initiative would be nothing more than slogans and idle tinkering.
 
"Most of the hydrogen business in Korea is concentrated on end applications such as hydrogen fuel cell electric cars or hydrogen fuel cell systems," said Lee Ho-geun, an automotive engineering professor at Daeduk University.  
 
"But in terms of manufacturing, storing, shipping and retailing it, Korea is a bit behind. Fuel cell electric vehicles are made 99 percent from our own proprietary technology, but charging infrastructure is made from technology imported from Europe or the United States. A more balanced development is needed."
 
The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy admitted recently in a release that Korea's progress toward the hydrogen economy is unbalanced and is concentrated on end-products.  
 
Posco steel mill in Pohang, North Gyeongsang where byproduct hydrogen is produced. [POSCO]

Posco steel mill in Pohang, North Gyeongsang where byproduct hydrogen is produced. [POSCO]

 

Gray, blue and green

 
There are basically three types of hydrogen — grey, blue and green — depending on how they are made and their resulting eco-friendliness
 
Green hydrogen, which uses renewable energy such as solar and wind for its production, would be the ultimate eco-friendly option, but due to technological and geographical limits, making green hydrogen to meet demand is currently impossible, especially in Korea.
 
At the moment, gray hydrogen accounts for almost all of hydrogen usage around the world. Ninety-six percent of the global hydrogen production is gray hydrogen.  
 
Gray hydrogen is manufactured from a process that involves natural gas and generates CO2.
 
It also includes hydrogen that's a by-product of chemical production and steelmaking.  
 
Manufacturing 1 ton of gray hydrogen results in emission of 10 tons of CO2, so it does not help in achieving zero emissions.
 
Enter "blue" hydrogen.
 
Blue hydrogen is manufactured in the same way as the gray hydrogen but utilizes carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) technologies to capture and bury the emitted CO2 deep underground or convert it into other elements through chemical reactions.  
 
Petrochemical and steelmaking companies have the upper hand in this segment because they already possess manufacturing capacity for gray hydrogen in their existing businesses.  
 
In order to create a well-functioning ecosystem for hydrogen, they are developing various CCUS technologies and marketing them.
 
Lotte Chemical, which is able to produce 30,000 tons of gray hydrogen per year, pledged to make 160,000 tons of blue hydrogen by 2025.  
 
It is looking to build new facilities for making blue hydrogen, but the candidates for the site haven't been confirmed, according to Lotte Chemical.  
 
The company is focusing on developing CCUS technologies using gas separating membranes.  
 
Early this year, Lotte Chemical built facilities to test the technologies at its chemical plant in Yeosu, South Jeolla, which makes synthetics.  
 
The company plans to have the facilities in operation by 2023 after collecting and analyzing data.  
 
It says it can collect 60,000 tons of CO2 per year.  
 
"The collected CO2 can be used by our company or can be sold to other small and midsized chemical companies that need CO2 when making various synthetics products," said a spokesman from Lotte Chemical.  
 
The collected CO2 can be used for making polycarbonate, dry ice and washers for semiconductors, according to the spokesman.  
 
It plans to expand the carbon capturing technology to its other chemical factories, in Daesan and Ulsan, and capture more than 200,000 tons of CO2 per year.  
 
Posco and SK E&S pledged production of 500,000 tons and 250,000 tons of blue hydrogen, respectively, by 2030 and 2025 using CCUS technology.  
 
The Ministry of Industry pledged to raise the portion of blue and green hydrogen usage from the current zero to 50 percent by 2030. By 2050, blue and green hydrogen will account for 100 percent of all hydrogen usage in Korea, the ministry said.  
 
Cimarron's Type 4 tank for hydrogen storage and transportation. Hanwha Solutions acquired Cimarron last year.

Cimarron's Type 4 tank for hydrogen storage and transportation. Hanwha Solutions acquired Cimarron last year.

Storing and transporting

 
Korea has disadvantages in making green hydrogen because of geographical limitations. That is why technology in storing and transporting hydrogen is essential.  
 
At the moment, the most common type of storing and transporting hydrogen is in gaseous form using tube trailers or underground pipelines.    
 
In storing and transporting hydrogen, developing tube trailers that can compress hydrogen is vital.  
 
Level 1 tube trailers are those that can compress gaseous hydrogen under 200 bar. This type is the most widely used format at the moment and can carry 250 kilograms of hydrogen at once.  
 
The amount is far too small if the hydrogen economy is to become reality. 
   
Companies are rushing to develop Level 3 and 4 tube trailers that use high-strength plastic and carbon fiber to compress hydrogen up to 700 bar. It can carry up to 1,000 kilograms of gaseous hydrogen at once.  
 
In Korea, Hanwha Solutions and Lotte Chemical are delving into the business.  
 
Hanwha Solutions acquired U.S. tank manufacturer Cimarron last year to develop Level 4 high-pressure hydrogen tanks. The company plans on developing gas tubes that can be used for urban air mobility and for shipping. Lotte Chemical is developing 700-bar hydrogen tanks for fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs).  
 
Despite advancing technology in transporting hydrogen in its gaseous form, there are limits in quantity and travel distance.  
 
That is where liquefied hydrogen comes in. No matter how it is made, liquefied hydrogen reduces the size by 800 times compared to gaseous hydrogen, which means that much more hydrogen can be stored and transported at once.
 
It also cuts down cost.
 
According to a report by KTB Investment & Securities, transportation accounts for 40 percent of the wholesale price of the hydrogen.  
 
"If high-pressured tube trailers for gaseous hydrogen converts to a liquefied hydrogen truck, transporting costs decrease by 70 percent," the report said.  
 
Lotte Chemical's hydrogen tank [LOTTE CHEMICAL]

Lotte Chemical's hydrogen tank [LOTTE CHEMICAL]

Delivering liquefied hydrogen is technologically challenging.
 
Hydrogen has to be liquefied at minus 253 degrees Celsius which is a temperature as cold as outer space.  
 
The shipping industry is working to make tanks and vessels that can transport liquefied hydrogen safely, because if this energy source is going to be the next big thing, shipping hydrogen across the globe will become a large market.
 
Korea Shipbuilding & Offshore Engineering (KSOE) in partnership with various institutions is developing liquid hydrogen carrier vessels and tanks.    
 
In 2019, Japan's Kawasaki Heavy Industries introduced the world's first liquid hydrogen carrier vessel, although the actual shipment hasn't been carried out yet due to multiple delays related the pandemic.  
 
Last year, KSOE in partnership with Hyundai Mipo Dockyards received approval for its 20,000-cubic-meter liquid hydrogen carrier from the Korean Register and the Liberian International Ship and Corporate Registry. The vessel, which is 166-meter long, has double-walled vacuum-insulated tanks to minimize the boil-off losses of the hydrogen during shipping.  
 
The ship is expected to come into real use by 2027.  
 
"Demand for eco-friendly fuels like hydrogen is poised to increase in the future," a KSOE spokesman said. "With KSOE's experience in building gas carrier and gas-powered vessels, the company has the upper hand in taking a lead in designing and building carriers for liquefied hydrogen as well as ammonia."
 
 

Ammonia may be the answer

 
Ammonia is emerging as a new solution to store and transport hydrogen.  
 
Ammonia is a nitrogen atom bonded to three hydrogen atoms, and it has recently emerged as an option for storing and shipping hydrogen. In gaseous form, ammonia has 1.7 times the hydrogen as the same volume of liquefied hydrogen.
 
Even though there is a cost to separating hydrogen from ammonia, it can be liquefied at minus 33 degrees Celsius.  
 
Utilizing ammonia to transport hydrogen can further cut down costs because in most countries, transporting infrastructure for ammonia has been already established.  
 
A total of 180 million tons of ammonia is already being manufactured annually around the world, and there are about 120 ammonia tunnels.  
 
"Technology for shipping ammonia is mostly already secured in Korea because we have been importing and exporting it for years," said Cho Won-chul, chief of the Hydrogen Research Department at the Korea Institute of Energy Research.  
 
"Extracting hydrogen from ammonia needs to be developed mor,e but the hurdle is not too high. There just hasn't been demand for hydrogen from ammonia until now. If there is demand forming later on, ammonia will be one of the most effective ways to ship hydrogen compared to liquefied hydrogen."
 
In Korea, a consortium has been recently formed to ship hydrogen in the form of ammonia.  
 
Posco, Lotte Fine Chemical, Lotte Global Logis, HMM, Korean Register of Shipping and KSOE joined forces to develop and operate ammonia-running ships and transport ammonia containing green hydrogen manufactured overseas on these ships.
 
Green ammonia manufactured in Australia will be imported to Korea in the form of ammonia through these ships, according to the consortium. The imported ammonia will be delivered to Posco's manufacturing plant through Lotte Fine Chemical's ammonia pipeline that has been already set up.  
 
Lotte Fine Chemical already handles nearly 70 percent of ammonia retail in Korea. It is operating eight storage tanks for ammonia in Ulsan, which can store some 930,000 tons of ammonia. The existing underground pipeline for ammonia can be used as well, further reducing costs.  
 
"When shipping more than 2,000 kilometers, the form of ammonia is cheaper than liquified hydrogen," said Han Sang-won, a researcher at Daishin Securities.  
 
"Being able to use the existing infrastructure is also a benefit."
 
Hanwha Energy and Doosan Fuel Cell's hydrogen fuel cell power plant in Seosan, South Chungcheong [DOOSAN FUEL CELL]

Hanwha Energy and Doosan Fuel Cell's hydrogen fuel cell power plant in Seosan, South Chungcheong [DOOSAN FUEL CELL]

 

Lighting up the city

 
When thinking of hydrogen applications, FCEVs come to mind first for most.
 
But there is another area where hydrogen is coming into good use: fuel cell power plants.
 
Without emitting pollutants, power plants using hydrogen fuel cell systems provide electricity to a nearby region a clean way. It also is stable due to the element's abundance.  
 
Korea is ahead in this area as the country built the world's first hydrogen fuel cell power plant utilizing by-product hydrogen.  
 
Hanwha Energy, Doosan Fuel Cell and others joined forces last year to construct a 50-megawatt power plant in Seosan, South Chungcheong.  
 
Doosan Fuel Cell supplies 114 440-kilowatt fuel cell systems made with its proprietary technology.
 
The power plant, which initiated commercial operations in June 2020, is able to provide 40,000 megawatt-hours of electricity to some 160,000 households in South Chungcheong every year.  
 
The heat generated from making electricity heats local households.  
 
It utilizes hydrogen produced as by-product from nearby petrochemical plant.  
 
Hydrogen used for the power plant is the by-product of chemical manufacturing process at a petrochemical plant located 2 kilometers away. The by-product hydrogen is transported to the power plant through an underground pipeline.    
 
One of the benefits of power plants using hydrogen fuel cell systems is that its electricity capacity is flexible depending on the usage.  
 
The Hyundai Mobis emergency fuel cell power plant in Chungju, South Chungcheong, is one example. It has electricity capacity of 450 kilowatt,s just enough to get through a brief emergency situation at the factory.  
 
"This power plant can generate electricity equivalent to 7 or 8 percent of the electricity needed for the Chungju factory," a Hyundai Mobis spokesman said.  
 
Hyundai Motor also set up a power plant utilizing Nexo's fuel cell system that is able to generate 10,000 megawatts of electricity in Ulsan. This power plant, being supplied with by-product hydrogen from nearby petrochemical plant, is able to power some 2,200 households.
 
"When it is concluded that more electricity would be needed, we can change it around by stacking up more fuel cell systems to it. Compared to power generators that use diesel, it generates no emission and is much quieter," the Hyundai Mobis spokesman said.  
 
Hyundai Motor's Trailer Drone concept model, which runs on hydrogen [HYUNDAI MOTOR]

Hyundai Motor's Trailer Drone concept model, which runs on hydrogen [HYUNDAI MOTOR]

 

Mobility: from cars to trams

 
Battery-powered EVs have already taken the mainstream in eco-friendly vehicles because they are more cost efficient and easier for mass production, helping the automakers make money while avoiding emission fines in a short amount of time. Building charging infrastructure is also easier.
 
It becomes a different story when the journey requires long distances and heavy loads. 
 
"Battery-powered vehicles lose their competitiveness when they have to travel long distances or carry heavy loads because in order to handle that, the vehicle has to be stacked with gigantic batteries making the vehicle way too heavy," said Um Suk-kee, a mechanical engineering professor at Hanyang University.
 
Um had worked for Hyundai Motor's hydrogen R&D for three years and is now currently participating in a project for a hydrogen-powered tram with Hyundai Rotem. 
 
"For FCEVs, however, long distances or heavy loads don't become a problem because the fuel cell system generates electricity with hydrogen and doesn't require a bigger battery. That is also why fuel cell electric trucks also have a more competitive edge than passenger FCEVs because the trucks generally travel longer distances."
 
Hyundai Motor's Nexo SUV, an FCEV  [HYUNDAI MOTOR]

Hyundai Motor's Nexo SUV, an FCEV [HYUNDAI MOTOR]

Hyundai Motor and Toyota are few carmakers that still have faith in hydrogen cars.
 
Hyundai Motor, a leader in the global FCEV market, had 52.2 percent of the world's passenger FCEV market this year as of August. Toyota came in second with 39.2 percent market share.
 
Their flagship FCEV models are Hyundai Nexo and Toyota Mirai, both of which boast driving ranges of more than 550 kilometers per charge.
 
Hyundai Motor is now betting big on commercial vehicles that run on hydrogen.
 
By 2028, the carmaker pledges to roll out FCEV versions of its entire commercial vehicle lineup. The carmaker expects the hydrogen-running commercial vehicles will demand some 200,000 tons of hydrogen.
 
Hyundai Motor recently revealed a concept model called Trailer Drone, where a container sits upon two bogies that are powered by hydrogen fuel cell systems.  
 
The vehicle can run 1,000 kilometers per charge and can be utilized for various purposes other than logistics, such as for construction, rescue and fire fighting.  
 
Passenger FCEVs are also gradually gaining popularity.
 
Hyundai Motor sold 19,051 Nexos as of August this year since the model was first sold in 2018. The automaker plans a second FCEV model in 2023.  
 
Hyundai Motor Group Chairman Euisun Chung had said that fuel cell system will be expanded to other mobility and energy solutions such as trams, trains, ships, urban air mobility as well as for buildings, houses and factories.  
 
Fuel cell tram being developed by Hyundai Rotem [HYUNDAI ROTEM]

Fuel cell tram being developed by Hyundai Rotem [HYUNDAI ROTEM]

Hyundai Rotem is working on developing trams that run on hydrogen.
 
It is currently test running a hydrogen tram in Ulsan with an aim to market it by 2023. The tram, which runs on a 400 kilowatt fuel cell system, is able to hit 70 kilometers per hour and can run 200 kilometers per charge.  
 
"The hydrogen tram is economical compared to ordinary trams because it doesn't need extra infrastructure such as cables and substations," the company said.  
 
"It is equivalent to saving 2.4 billion won per kilometer if the construction of infrastructure is not needed."
 
 
 
 

BY JIN EUN-SOO, SARAH CHEA [jin.eunsoo@joongang.co.kr]
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