Helping the Hydrogen Industry in Alberta Reduce Emissions

Learn more about how to reduce common challenges for hydrogen plants.

Alberta is among the world’s top producers of low-carbon hydrogen through natural gas upgrading. The province is ideally situated to become Canada’s first hydrogen hub based on its experience in hydrogen production and carbon capture and storage; vast network of pipeline infrastructure; large talent pool of engineers and tradespeople; and engaged industry, government, indigenous, and academic leaders.

In the hydrogen industry, safety, reliability, and efficiency are paramount. New, large-scale projects in the hydrogen industry in Alberta promise to create major opportunities for producers who can meet hydrogen’s unique challenges. With top-quality Swagelok components and expert consultation, you can ensure the success of hydrogen operations at every level, now and in the future.

The State of the Hydrogen Industry in Alberta

The hydrogen industry in Alberta has attracted significant attention from policymakers and business accelerators in recent years. In 2020, the Canadian government announced its national hydrogen strategy, and Alberta unveiled its Natural Gas Vision and Strategy in which hydrogen plays a major part.

The province is already a significant hydrogen producer, and with its existing infrastructure and multiple new hydrogen projects under development, it has the potential to grow into a hydrogen powerhouse.

According to the Natural Gas Vision and Strategy, Alberta plans to engage in large-scale hydrogen production with carbon capture, utilization, and storage by 2030 and to export hydrogen nationally and globally by 2040. This plan was followed by the Alberta Petrochemicals Incentive Program, which also includes hydrogen production as part of the province’s strategy to stimulate the petrochemical industry.

The Transition Accelerator published a report in November 2020 recommending a focus on hydrogen nodes in municipalities and transportation corridors with reliable, low-cost hydrogen supplies, significant consumption markets, and cost-effective means to connect them. These nodes are intended to provide self-sufficient local hydrogen economies with the potential to be connected in the future as the hydrogen industry in Alberta grows.

Ensuring Safety in Hydrogen Production

Hydrogen has several safety advantages over conventional oil and gas products:

  • Unlike natural gas, hydrogen is non-toxic. A hydrogen leak will not harm the environment or cause health risks.
  • Hydrogen is much lighter than air and diffuses rapidly, so if it is released, it will rise and disperse, reducing the risk of ignition at ground level.
  • Burning hydrogen radiates less heat than natural gas, so there is less risk of secondary fires.
  • Hydrogen requires a relatively high concentration of oxygen to become explosive.

While hydrogen production processes are very safe when performed responsibly, there are still potential safety hazards. Hydrogen gas is flammable and ignites easily. Because it is colorless and odorless, sensors are essential to detect leaks. Hydrogen piping systems must be carefully designed and fabricated to prevent leaks and eliminate ignition sources and oxygen contamination.

Though it has attracted a lot of attention and investment in recent years, hydrogen fuel is not a new technology. Hydrogen has been used in rocket fuel, oil refineries, fertilizer production, and other industries for decades, and safety requirements are well understood. Safety measures for hydrogen production are similar to those for conventional gas products, but because hydrogen is such a small, light molecule, high-quality components and tight tolerances are necessary to prevent leaks. Only the highest-quality valves, fittings, seals, and other fluid system components are appropriate for hydrogen service. As long as hydrogen systems are designed with safety in mind, and the right components are selected, hydrogen production is an exceptionally safe process.

Material Requirements for Hydrogen Processing

Hydrogen is an extremely small molecule that easily escapes through microscopic openings and diffuses into materials designed to contain it.

In high-pressure hydrogen service, this diffusion leads to hydrogen embrittlement. The effects can range from reduced tensile strength and ductility to an increased rate of fatigue crack propagation.

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ASME B31.12 Standard on Hydrogen Piping and Pipelines provides material selection requirements and recommendations for hydrogen service. Austenitic (300 series) stainless steels are recommended for liquid and gaseous hydrogen piping, tubing, valves, and fittings, and they should be used in the annealed condition when possible. Some carbon steels can be used for gaseous hydrogen piping, tubing, valves, and fittings when operating temperatures are at least -29°C, but carbon steel is not recommended for high-pressure applications. Carbon steels are susceptible to embrittlement and require periodic inspection for inclusions and cracks when in cyclic service. 

Other generally acceptable materials for hydrogen service include aluminum alloys, copper, and copper alloys. Nickel and nickel alloys are susceptible to severe hydrogen embrittlement and should not be used. Materials should be carefully selected using good quality control procedures and with a clear understanding of the system’s operating conditions.

Mitigating Risks with Quality Components

Hydrogen leaks extremely easily due to its small molecular size. In addition to material compatibility, components for high-pressure hydrogen service must be designed and selected for the maximum possible leak resistance.

Pressure relief devices are required in hydrogen piping systems to relieve pressures that exceed the system’s maximum allowable working pressure and in liquid hydrogen piping to protect sections where liquid or vapour can become trapped between valves or closures. Flanged connections are recommended, and threaded connections should be avoided to eliminate potential leak paths. Swagelok offers a variety of tube fittings and flange adaptors appropriate for hydrogen service, including the FK series fittings, some of the few tube fittings designed to satisfy the unique demands of hydrogen applications. The FK series is engineered specifically for hydrogen service with pressure ratings up to 1551 bar and 316 stainless steel fabrication with 12% minimum nickel content. SWS connections and VCR connections are also a good choice for hydrogen gas service as they reduce potential leak points.

Valve selection is critical to ensure reliable hydrogen operations. Isolation valves with lockout capabilities should be installed in easily accessible locations to isolate portions of the hydrogen piping system for maintenance and in emergencies. In the event of piping or equipment failure, self-actuated excess flow valves can shut off flow when a sensor detects that the maximum flow rate has been reached. Check valves prevent reverse flow, which can cause contamination. Swing-type and lift-type check valves are recommended for 2.5 cm and larger diameter pipes. Poppet-type check valves are recommended for diameters under 2.5 cm.

Improve Hydrogen Grab Sampling Quality and Efficiency

Hydrogen must be maintained at a high level of purity, both to meet product requirements and to ensure safety.

Maintaining hydrogen purity requires regular sampling and analysis. If samples are not representative, though, contamination and other problems can go undetected, compromising product purity and potentially creating safety hazards. 

Fortunately, there are grab sampling system options designed to improve the safety, reliability, and efficiency of the hydrogen sampling process. Two options to consider are quick-connects and a purge bypass tube.

Stainless steel quick-connects facilitate safe and easy attachment and detachment of sample cylinders from sampling stations. Quick-connects can easily handle high-pressure hydrogen sampling and offer unrestricted flow for gas transfers. They can be keyed to prevent accidental intermixing of different lines in multi-pressure or multi-fluid systems. 

Purging helps ensure the capture of representative, contamination-free hydrogen samples by clearing the sample line of any residue from previous samples. A purge bypass tube circulates an inert gas, typically nitrogen, through the sampling station to remove residual sampling gas before and after drawing a sample. The inert gas and any residual gases are then purged to vent.

For the Best Components for Hydrogen Service, Look to an Experienced Vendor

Edmonton Valve & Fitting offers a wide range of hydrogen-compatible systems and components ideal for hydrogen service for their leak-tight designs, material compatibility, and high-pressure resistance. Swagelok components are ideal for hydrogen infrastructure applications including dispensers, storage cylinders, compressors, separators, and pressure control devices that make up hydrogen stations, as well as the tube trailers that bring hydrogen to the stations. We also offer EC-79-certified components suitable for on-vehicle applications including light-duty, heavy-duty, rail, ship, and aerospace.

Finally, we also provide customized gas sampling systems designed for high-pressure hydrogen service to ensure sampling is reliable, accurate, and safe. Our Field Advisors can perform an onsite consultation to assess your facility’s needs and recommend the best systems and components to ensure safe, reliable operations.

To find out more about how Edmonton Valve & Fitting can help the hydrogen industry in Alberta by providing expert consultation, products, and assembly services, contact us through our website or by calling 780-437-0640.

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