An investment in future generations
Which challenge is your research addressing?
Clare McDermott: What we are looking at from a Teknos point of view is that although hydrogen has been around forever and we have years of experience of working with it, it has now become a much sought-after commodity that the energy sector is looking to utilise to create green energy. If you look at the oil and gas sector over the years, it has developed many different standards and guidelines to ensure that the industry operates safely and efficiently. There are several standards relating to coatings – advising on a coating’s chemistry and performance requirements in relation to its operating environment. Moving forward the same consideration needs to be given to the hydrogen sector.
Recent announcements across Europe and the US indicate that there will be many large-scale hydrogen projects planned, designed, and built over the next decade and a better understanding of the coatings requirements is needed to ensure that issues are avoided. A set of coating guidelines/standards needs to be established. The research we are doing at Teknos and with our partners is trying to address this issue, by identifying what the certification and coating criteria could be.
I wouldn’t say we are totally ahead of the game, but we are already testing our products against hydrogen to see whether it is compatible to make sure we could use them in the pipelines. We are trying to pre-empt what is coming, because currently pipelines are needed to be built, but there is no standardisation. Through our research we are trying to give owners and pipeline manufactures as much comfort as they can get at the moment, without standards in place.
Andreas Karpow: Looking at the global picture, why we are talking about hydrogen is because of the Paris agreement and the desire to be at zero carbon by 2050. That means we need to do something new, because everything that we are using before, like coal, crude oil, methane or natural gas creates CO2 and gives a negative impact on the global warming potential. As more and more countries try to achieve the goals set out in the Paris agreement green energy is obviously the way forward. However, our ever-increasing energy requirements and the fact that the sun does not always shine, and it is not always windy means we need to focus on other clean alternatives. The current strain on the energy system in Europe is further testament to the need to move away from traditional forms of energy and hydrogen is tipped to be the solution. Hydrogen has many colours, although being a colourless gas. The colour coding is used to provide an information about how it was produced. Grey hydrogen is produced by steam reforming of natural gas creating vast amounts of CO2 and will not be considered in the long term.
The focus in the future must be on green hydrogen which is created by electrolysis of water using renewable energy sources and on blue hydrogen where the created CO2 is captured, stored or used for other chemical processes. The volumetric energy density of hydrogen is 3 times lower compared to natural gas which means that we will need a huge amount of hydrogen – this means that we will also need to invest heavily in the hydrogen transportation networks – this is a major challenge. Whether we invest in new infrastructure or repurpose existing networks we need to ensure that we fully understand the coating requirements and Teknos are talking constantly to our clients and partners to ensure that we are a part of that solution. This must be the way in order to overcome all the energy problems and go towards meeting the Paris agreement for the decarbonisation here in the European Union and in the rest of world.How does this affect the coatings industry and what opportunities are there already?
Karpow: There are already coatings for pipelines for the transportation of gas, crude oil, water and others. For these applications there are enough proven specifications and standards in place. The current situation is that everyone knows what to do and how to make coatings that withstand such demands. Now we are going into a field, where we do not have such standards and specifications and that brings up additional problems. How should we develop coatings without knowing how to test them? There are groups around the globe already working on this, but it is not ready yet. That makes it very complicated. We are involved in such working groups and trying to bring our thoughts in to solve these problems.
McDermott: The fact is that we might already have coatings that could work, but we don’t know. It might be that we don’t need to do something extra, and we could use existing coatings, or it might be that we need to develop something going forward. If you look at the planned hydrogen infrastructure, everyone sees hydrogen as this great new green hope of being able to remove renewable energy intermittency by creating the ability to store energy, which is currently the biggest issue if we want to really replace our reliance on fossil fuels and others. Alongside the transportation there is certain infrastructure, that needs to be built in terms of being able to transport hydrogen not just through pipelines but also by ship. We need port side storage terminals.
What effect does hydrogen have on the vessels it is being transported in? What effect does hydrogen have over the long term on pipelines or on tanks? Will it cause the embrittlement? What type of steel do you need? A key issue will be undertaking the cost-benefit-analysis between the use of the high-grade expensive steel required to avoid embrittlement issues or using lower grade steel protected by coatings which would have the additional advantage of creating super smooth internal surface to ease the flow of the hydrogen and increasing energy efficiency.
There are a lot of things to be looked at and this is a massive challenge. The focus will be on building new infrastructure, new pipelines, new storage, new vessels. However, there is also the question regarding the use existing infrastructure. Can we coat existing pipelines? How do we look at this from a maintenance or refurbishment point of view? What do we need to do? So, there are a lot of questions to be looked at from a coating supplier point of view. There is of course also the issue of money and the lack of it right now as prices are rising everywhere. The more infrastructure we put in place in terms of turbines and pipelines and so on, the more difficult it will get. Probably, the steel prices are not going to go down. We need to find the ideal position between coatings and steel.
Karpow: Hydrogen gas embrittlement is a well-known phenomenon which includes a number of detrimental effects like the reduction of the tensile strength of the metal and more dangerously hydrogen stress cracking [HSC]. This can lead to huge accidents and needs to be prevented. Although the mechanism of HSC is well studied for different metal alloys, there is still a lack of knowledge about how coatings can influence and prevent this, and this is why we are working on that topic.
What would be the next step?
Karpow: Working together with institutes and other stakeholders helps us to understand the problem and develop new coatings additional attributes such as increased barrier properties or better chemical interactions with the steel surface to reduce the impact of hydrogen.
What would you need to achieve all of this?
McDermott: We need to raise the awareness of these issues with project planners and project owners, and for them to, engage with the coating’s companies at an early stage. Then we can really understand the issues and talk together. From a cost perspective it makes sense if all the companies involved in the specification of coatings in this area work together to develop a single set of standards and operational criteria rather than everyone going off down their own road. We can then all focus on achieving the safest, most efficient and most cost-effective solutions. This is what we are aiming towards.
Karpow: When we think of where we would like to be in 10 years, I hope that we have answered all the fundamental questions and we have clear standardisation for coated surfaces in the hydrogen arena. To achieve this, as with everything new, we need to bring all the ideas together to find the solutions and develop the testing that proves the coatings are fit for purpose. That way we can continue to develop and improve efficiency, sustainability and costs even more going into the future. That is the normal scientific way, and this is what we are going to do.
Maksymilian Pawlowski: Why are we doing all of that? On the one hand it is because we want to solve above problems which are slowing down green energy transformation. On the other hand, it is also a kind of mission. When you look at Teknos, we have a core focus on sustainability and that is why are we putting so much effort and resources into it, it is why we are dedicated to sorting out issues and supporting the future of green energy. It is meaningful for us from the responsible standing point. We really want to contribute to creating a sustainable future. We are fully aware that this takes time but is has its meaning and it is an investment in future generations. We have to start now.