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Innovative compressors make hydrogen a viable fuel of the future

The innovative combination of two compression technologies could make hydrogen fuel more reliable and less expensive at the pump. This could encourage an uptake in hydrogen-fuelled cars and help Europe transition to clean mobility.

Energy

A quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions are caused by transport, which can lead to dangerous levels of air pollution. This is why transport needs to explore new pathways towards achieving cleaner mobility. One possible solution is hydrogen, a carbon-free fuel that can be stored as gas in vehicles and converted into electricity in an on-board fuel cell. The only other by-products are water and heat; only water vapour is released into atmosphere. “This technology combines the advantages of electric mobility, such as silence and zero emissions, with the advantages of a chemical fuel,” explains COSMHYC (COmbined hybrid Solution of Multiple HYdrogen Compressors for decentralised energy storage and refuelling stations) project coordinator David Colomar, engineer at the European Institute for Energy Research (EIFER). “These include short refuelling times and the ability to store a large amount of energy. This makes the technology suitable for vehicles in constant use such as taxis and buses, as well as long-distance vehicles like coaches and trucks.” A lack of widespread, affordable and reliable refuelling infrastructure however has presented an obstacle on the path towards commercialisation. “It is clear that more work needs to be done in terms of strengthening the hydrogen value chain, from hydrogen production to getting the fuel into vehicles,” says Colomar. “This is why the COSMHYC project was launched.”

Reliability at the pump

The COSMHYC project focuses on a specific element of the hydrogen value chain – the hydrogen refuelling station (HRS). “Here, hydrogen has to be compressed to very high pressures (450 to 950 bar),” explains Colomar. “The compressor is the main component of an HRS, the most expensive and the most difficult to operate.” The project therefore set about developing innovative new HRS compressors capable of delivering fuel in a cheaper, more reliable and more efficient way. The COSMHYC concept works like this. Hydrogen is transported from source to a metal hydride compressor, where it is stored. The fuel is then compressed in the mechanical compressor, to the pressure required for fuelling systems. “This smart coupling of two technologies enabled us to arrive at a very efficient solution that we believe can deliver fuel at a reduced cost,” adds Colomar. The project team is confident that the cost of fuel at the pump can be reduced by 20 %. The project team has finalised and validated the design of its prototype compressor and entered the construction phase. Analysis of the pre-industrial size prototype will enable the project team to accurately assess the technological and economic added value of the concept.

Boosting European industry

Scheduled for completion in September 2020, the COSMHYC project has already made some important advances. “We managed to identify new materials that will enable us to completely eliminate rare earth minerals from our technology,” says Colomar. “This is hugely significant, as it means that European industry will no longer be reliant on rare earth mineral imports and unreliable supply chains. This will give us an important economic and geostrategic advantage.” The COSMHYC concept is also scalable. A sister EU-funded project, called COSMHYC XL and launched last year, will build hydrogen compressors for large-scale applications like buses and trains. The project is due for completion at the end of 2021. Finally, Colomar believes that the project can play a critical role in increasing societal acceptance of hydrogen, through providing solutions to some key issues like reliability and noise disturbance. “All of this will contribute towards accelerating the energy transition in the transport sector,” he notes. “And by developing innovative technological solutions that are made in Europe, I think we can also contribute to developing new industrial ecosystems and new green jobs for future generations.”

Keywords

COSMHYC, hydrogen, compression, energy, transition, ecosystems, vehicles, buses, coaches, trucks

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