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Optimizing the H2 value chain from the plant floor to the cloud

Digital Technologies

M. SHARMA, Emerson, Gainesville, Florida

Green hydrogen (H2) plays a key role in the global path to decarbonization. The global green H2 market is projected to reach $108 B by 2031 with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 68.9% from 2022.1 Green, also known as clean, H2 has the potential to provide as much as 80 gigatons of carbon dioxide (CO2) abatement by 2050 from primarily industrial applications and transportation.2 However, green H2 production, transportation and distribution must be affordable to accelerate widespread adoption.

In the hopes of accelerating green H2 adoption, governments worldwide are encouraging industry growth through considerable subsidies and incentives. Under the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), green H2 plants can receive a production tax credit of $0.026/kilowatt-hour (kWhr) and up to $3/kilogram (kg) of green H2 produced through 2032, which could reduce upfront costs for manufacturers and speed infrastructure scale-up.3

The scaling up of green H2 production is critical to reducing its price, which is higher than hydrocarbon fuels and other H2 types. It is predicted that the cost of green H2 could fall by 30% by 2030 due to declining renewables costs and production scale-up.4 While this is a positive projection, it is possible for companies within the H2 value chain to make it a reality.

There is further scope for efficiencies and scale in input processes like water purification and renewable power generation. However, the bulk of cost optimization must come from the digital transformation (DX) of green H2 manufacturing, transportation and usage to make green H2 competitive against hydrocarbon-based fuels, and within the greater H2 market.

Optimizing the H2 industry from floor-to-cloud. DX has been proven to continuously improve sustainability, productivity, safety, profitability and more in many industries. The plant floor-to-cloud approach to DX provides real-time visibility and control that optimizes operations and automates key processes. The author’s company leverages a technology stack of sensors, automation hardware, edge and industrial software to unlock valuable data across the plant floor and translate it into meaningful insights.

Using these insights, companies can make informed decisions, solve challenges and achieve ambitious goals. In addition to these outcomes, a floor-to-cloud approach can create a digital trail that benefits all stages of the H2 value chain. A digital trail can help identify trends, detect errors, perform root cause analysis, predict failures and provide insights that drive continuous improvement.

The green H2 value chain includes the production, transportation and distribution of H2. However, the water treatment and renewable power plants that provide the ultrapure water and energy for green H2 production also factor into its overall cost. These stages can benefit from outcomes brought about by a floor-to-cloud approach.

Different technologies address separate stages of the DX journey. Smart sensors continuously monitor equipment and processes, then feed data to edge and programmable logic controllers. Based on the application’s scale, the aggregated data can be stored in a cloud, an enterprise-level data management software or a fast-access historian.

The author’s company’s software platforma performs machine-learning (ML) algorithmic processes on programmable logic controllers (PLCs) (edge control) or industrial (PCs) (edge computing) using historical and real-time data. Computing optimization strategies at the edgeas close to the process as possibleenables faster control and better outcomes. The company’s supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) softwareb brings the power of 3-D visualization, central monitoring and control, alarms on the go, trends and events analysis for greater operator usability, process awareness and insights.

The information processed is then sent to a cloud for deeper analysis and storage. The software translates data and provides real-time visualization, control interventions, diagnostics and predictions on a dashboard, helping operators easily understand and quickly respond to evolving conditions. When advanced analytics/ML algorithms are used at the edge layer, control strategies or operators can intervene in real time to make process enhancements that continuously improve operations. This can also help drive data to the cloud from multiple sources to complete comparative performance analysis across a fleet of machines (FIG. 1).

FIG. 1. A continuous DX journey starts with monitoring and keeps repeating incrementally.

Establishing a strong foundation. The first step to a floor-to-cloud approach is defining key performance indicators (KPIs). This process must include operational and executive staff. The operators and plant managers know field-level problems and operational benefits, while executives like the chief technology officer (CTO) will have an organization-wide view across multiple sites, future technology roadmaps and business outcomes. A floor-to-cloud approach can solve many challenges and offer various benefits, including reduced energy use, unplanned downtime, and greater security and safety (FIG. 2).

FIG. 2. A floor-to-cloud approach to digital transformation provides companies with real-time visibility and control that can continuously improve processes.

Real-time monitoring of onsite equipment provides operators the visibility and control to detect and address process anomalies in the early stages. By establishing baseline values, the system can detect when values deviate from set parameters and alert specified managers, engineers and other personnel through notifications. In this way, operators can compare the performance of the same set of machines on the same or multiple sites, identify equipment performing below the baseline, detect and address machine-specific issues and tweak processes, increasing the efficiency and overall equipment effectiveness across the fleet.

By predicting failures rather than running equipment to failure and reacting to late-stage issues, companies can practice predictive maintenance. Compared to schedule-based maintenance, predictive maintenance addresses what is really happening with equipment at a given moment and presents the opportunity to optimize machines. Addressing real-time equipment health increases maintenance team availability and, for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), allows for conditional rather than scheduled diagnostic trips to customer sites, freeing up resources like personnel and spares, reducing dependencies and saving costs.

Reduced utilization of energy and resources across the H2 value chain significantly influences the consumer cost of green H2. A comprehensive solution can include monitoring and analytics softwarec, which tracks and reports real-time energy and resource use from the machines to the enterprise level. The author’s company’s advanced softwarec sends alerts when values deviate from set parameters, provides guidance and generates reports. Plants with high visibility of energy and resource use can optimize use, minimize waste and reduce costs. Used at the enterprise level, the software helps formulate a comparative analysis of energy usage across sites, down to every piece of equipment.

A floor-to-cloud approach can also improve safety and security. Remote monitoring can improve personnel safety by minimizing manual equipment checks. This is especially advantageous when the equipment is located in hazardous areas. Once a company has identified its KPIs and understands the challenges it must solve, it is time to partner with consultants and OEMs to build in technology and specifications.


Because solutions are developed according to a company’s distinct challenges and KPIs, companies can also see specific benefits according to the use case. For the H2 industry, this includes H2 production, transportation and distribution, as well as the water treatment and renewable power plants that provide resources for green H2 production.

H2 production. In green H2 plants, electrolyzers use an electric current to separate water molecules into their base elements, oxygen and H2. Electrolyzers must operate as safely and efficiently as possible to protect people and property and achieve maximum production levels. A floor-to-cloud approach can help operators monitor electrolyzer health, the volume of H2, oxygen generated and the power consumed, and detect any leakages or signs of corrosive damage due to oxygen generation.

A floor-to-cloud approach that makes this possible includes reliable valves, back-pressure regulators, an intelligent PLC and analytics software, allowing operators to track the performance and health of electrolyzer units and plant processes. Operators may compare performance between electrolyzer units and receive insights that point to reasons for variable or degraded performance. An edge control-based solution paired with analytics softwarec and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) supporting valve island controls and pressure regulators provides a total floor-to-cloud solution to manage the plant efficiently (FIG. 3).

FIG. 3. An edge controller performs calculations on the edge and advises process improvement in real time.

H2 transportation. Once produced, H2 (and ammonia) can be stored and transported via pipelines and tankers. As these gases move from place to place, it is important to ensure safety, minimize product loss and comply with regulations. Continuous asset monitoring for tankers and pipelines measures gas flow, pressure and temperature, and identifies safety concerns such as signs of leak or damage to the pipeline. Sending collected data to the cloud provides centralized visibility and control to ensure the finished products reach their destination.

H2 distribution. Each distribution point in H2 fueling stations generates a lot of data, providing significant opportunities to apply and benefit from DX. A floor-to-cloud approach can provide insights into various operational and administrative processes, including safe storage and distribution, billing, inventory monitoring and replenishing, and onsite electrolyzer performance monitoring. This station management level can allow for more efficient H2 transfer from high-pressure to medium-pressure buffers to service dispensers and can increase dispenser availability.

While safety is paramount at every stage in the H2 value chain, safe distribution is critical as this is where H2 first comes in contact with the public. The digitization of all processes can help ensure equipment is serviced before a breakdown, H2 is dispensed safely, and any leakages or other issues are quickly addressed.

Every organization will have multiple fueling stations across the U.S. Therefore, it is critical to have an early DX strategy to ensure central monitoring and control across the entire fleet for inventory management, predictive maintenance, performance analysis, billing and building management of individual sites.

While facilities of any stage of digital maturity can benefit from a floor-to-cloud approach, greenfield facilities have distinct benefits. Companies that design and deploy DX solutions at the greenfield stage can build better control philosophies and cybersecurity at the design phase and have greater flexibility when selecting technologies. The freedom to choose technologies at the outset is a huge advantage, as retrofitting later can result in extra costs and a potentially compromised solution (FIG. 4).

FIG. 4. The digital transformation of green H2 manufacturing, transportation and usage can optimize operations and reduce costs to make green H2 competitive against hydrocarbon-based fuels and other types of H2.

Better design means better outcomesdata collection, analysis and optimizationfrom the start. As the H2 industry grows more competitive, this can give companies that are digitally transforming their operations a distinct advantage that pushes them ahead of their competition. DX solutions are more than investments: they are intellectual capital with quick payback. These engineering solutions solve problems using edge controls, such as energy management, which can significantly reduce utility costs.

Comprehensive integration for best overall performance. The price of green H2 depends on the capital expenditure (CAPEX) and operational expenditure (OPEX) of companies within the value chain. A floor-to-cloud solution that includes edge solutions with IIoT devices and sensors, energy management software, and enterprise SCADA is the best way to integrate all stages, optimize operations and reduce costs. Timely digitization of the whole H2 value chainfrom electrolysis, transportation and distribution to water treatment and renewable power plantscreates a digital trail with numerous benefits. This digital integration allows operators to monitor and coordinate operations to achieve best overall performance.

Each process element can be viewed as part of a bigger picture, impacting downstream process efficiency. The companies involved can focus on individual processes to improve performance, reduce failures and ensure compliance with environmental and reporting. This will enable the entire production, transportation and distribution digitization to be linked to enterprise resource planning for integration with other functions (e.g., technology, supply chain, finance) to create an extremely aware, highly responsive and efficient infrastructure. The optimum infrastructure can pave the way for accelerated green H2 adoption and overall industry success.H2T


1 Globe Newswire, “Global green hydrogen market analysis report 2022: A $108 billion industry by 2031 with a staggering CAGR of 68.9%,” February 2023, online: 

2 McKinsey Sustainability, “Five charts on hydrogen’s role in a net-zero future,” October 2022, online: 

3 The International Council on Clean Transportation, “Can the inflation reduction act unlock a green hydrogen economy?” January 2023, online: 

4 International Energy Agency, “The future of hydrogen,” June 2019, online: 


a Emerson’s PACEdge 

b Emerson’s Movicon.NExT 

c Emerson’s Movicon Pro.Energy

About the author

MANISH SHARMA leads the industry marketing segment for the energy and water industries at Emerson. He has 20 yr of experience in marketing, product management and control systems research and development. Sharma has been with Emerson since 2011 and holds three U.S. patents for control systems solutions.