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World Hydrogen North America: Day 1—Practical challenges to scaling hydrogen infrastructure

Tyler Campbell, Associate Editor 

Scaling hydrogen (H2) infrastructure is a challenge many companies face during this global energy transition. Essential aspects such as cost, reliability, performance and customer acceptance are a few facets that must be explored.

Matthew Blieske, CEO for LIFTE H2, delivered a presentation titled “Practical Challenges to Scaling Hydrogen Infrastructure” on Day 1 of World Hydrogen North America. Blieske focused on the supply chain and its impact on building profitable H2 projects. 

“Individual technologies do not deliver customer value propositions. Customers aren’t buying compressors, electrolyzers or trailers by themselves; they are buying hydrogen,” Blieske said. He expressed that the buyers of the H2 are most important, and customers are concerned about competitive cost, safety, reliability and performance. 

Blieske gave an example of a trailer export of gaseous H2. He presented the issue of a lack in loading capacity, which results in increased distribution cost, and high cost with low product distribution prevents project progression. 

According to Blieske, the solution is not as simple as developing new storage technologies that increase the volumetric density of storage on trailers. If the increased amount of H2 is loaded onto the trailer, then the pressure rises, resulting in the need for pressurized electrolysis so that the input to the compressor is higher. 

For the increase in loading capacity to work, the entire trailer infrastructure must be updated. This includes larger oil-free compressors, upgraded trailer refueling systems, new transfill protocol and the end-use system must be capable of accepting higher pressure inputs. In addition, the systems must adhere to regulations and standards. 

Blieske went on to describe why supply chains need to be localized. He quotes the main barriers as regional product compliance, local operational compliance and customer-specific compliance. 

  • Regional product compliance – product standards that vary by country 
  • Local operational compliance – product standards that vary by state 
  • Customer-specific compliance – specifications that the client requires 

“There is an infinite combination of configurations of this, and the problem is if you build one project in a new region, there is likely some form of product iterations, some version of a design-time needed, which adds to lead time and you don’t know all of this upfront,” Blieske said. “This is why I emphasize regional campaigns.” 

Blieske ended the presentation with a discussion on optimization. He specified breaking data silos to be essential to understanding H2 project cost. He noted the lack of data standards due to it being a new industry, security and privacy concerns, which prevent collaboration and antiquated data management systems. 

“Everyone is using Industrial 3.0 architectures and dedicated servers that were acceptable in the 1990s but won’t be acceptable now,” Blieske said. 

He went on to say that this is a human issue, and nothing needs to be invented. He recommended Industrial 4.0 and automated data handling to encourage secure and private collaborations. 

“This is a continuous and virtuous cycle, and it’s about collaboration,” he said. The time for competition will come, but we are very far away from that.” 

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