A viable hydrogen infrastructure requires that hydrogen be able to be delivered from where it is produced to the point of end use, such as an industrial facility, power generator, or fueling station. Infrastructure includes the pipelines, liquefaction plants, 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. Growth in hydrogen demand will require regional expansion of this infrastructure and development of new technologies, such as chemical carriers to transport hydrogen at high density and high-throughput fueling technologies for heavy-duty fuel cell transportation.
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 and over the road in cryogenic liquid tanker trucks or gaseous tube trailers. Pipelines are deployed in regions with substantial demand (hundreds of tons per day) that is expected to remain stable for decades. Liquefaction plants, liquid tankers, and tube trailers are deployed in regions where demand is at a smaller scale or emerging. Demonstrations of hydrogen delivery via chemical carriers (e.g., in barges) are also underway in large-scale applications, such as export markets.
At the point of hydrogen use, additional infrastructure components that are commonly deployed include compression, storage, dispensers, meters, and contaminant detection and purification technologies. For example, stations being deployed to dispense hydrogen into medium- and heavy-duty fuel cell vehicles are expected to compress the hydrogen to 350–700 bar pressure and dispense at up to 10 kg/min. High-throughput technologies to meet these performance requirements are currently under development.
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 wide-scale growth of hydrogen demand will require research and development (R&D), expansion of the supply chain, and new deployments. 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 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.