Liquid hydrogen storage: increasingly larger storage tanks

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Liquid hydrogen storage: increasingly larger storage tanks

The use of hydrogen is steadily on the rise. Ambitious sustainability targets are defined within various industries, forcing producers to move towards emission-free fuels and energy carriers.

In line with the European Green Deal, the European Climate Act states a legally binding target of achieving climate neutrality in the EU by 2050. In the transport sector, the goal is even to reduce emissions by 90% by 2050. The large-scale deployment of sustainable applications and vehicles, including those using liquid hydrogen, is actively pursued to achieve this goal.

What does this development mean for liquid hydrogen storage? How is liquid hydrogen stored in 2021, and what will storage tanks look like in the future? In this blog, we look at liquid hydrogen storage and its ever-expanding storage tanks.

Why liquid hydrogen on a large scale?

As described in our earlier blog on liquid hydrogen, the benefits of both liquid- and gaseous hydrogen are significant. The raw materials to produce hydrogen are abundantly present on earth, minimal land is required for production, and the only by-products are heat and water. This makes hydrogen a highly sustainable fuel and energy carrier when produced using green energy. This sustainable form of hydrogen is known as green hydrogen.

Although there are still some challenges related to the production of green hydrogen, a growing number of applications are under development that run on hydrogen. As you can read in our blog, “What is hydrogen used for?” liquid hydrogen-powered passenger cars, trucks, and aircraft, among others, are already fully under development. In addition, the use of this efficient energy carrier for energy transport and storage is also extensively researched.

Unfortunately, very little green hydrogen gas is produced today, and most applications still use gray hydrogen. However, the expectation and hope is that this will significantly improve over the next few decades.

With so many applications under development and the potential for hydrogen to become the sustainable fuel and energy carrier of the future, liquid hydrogen production can only increase. According to a recent report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), approximately 306 million tons of green hydrogen are needed annually to achieve the aforementioned climate neutrality by 2050. In comparison, in 2020, 87 million tons of (mostly gray) hydrogen was produced from natural gas and coal, mainly for use in the chemical and oil refining sectors.

What is the difference between green, blue and gray hydrogen? Read more about this on our recent blog about steam methane reforming.

Large scale liquid hydrogen storage

A growing need for enough hydrogen, means higher targets for the storage of hydrogen and bigger storage tanks. And while hydrogen tanks are already relatively large today, they will only get larger in the future.

NASA currently owns the largest cryogenic storage tank in the world. Located in Florida, this tank is a whopping 3,800 m³ in size and has a capacity of 270 tons of liquefied hydrogen. JAXA, in Japan, also uses a huge tank to store hydrogen. This tank is 540 m³ in size and has a capacity of 38 tons of liquid hydrogen.

However, the newer tanks are getting even bigger. Future liquid hydrogen storage tanks are expected to be about 13 times larger than NASA’s current tank. These new tanks will be able to contain up to about 3,500 tons of stored hydrogen safely.

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Bron: NCE Maritime CleanTech

The first tanks of this size are already in development. For example, McDermott International, Ltd recently announced the design of a new record-breaking hydrogen tank. The tank was designed by CB&I Storage Solutions and is 40,000 m³ in size. The development of this tank formed part of a study aimed at expanding the storage capacity of liquid hydrogen.

Not only on land but also at sea, colossal hydrogen storage tanks are expected in the future. Kawasaki Heavy Industries, for example, is currently working diligently on the design of a liquid hydrogen tanker with as many as four 40,000 m³ spherical storage tanks.

Source: Kawasaki

Anything to prevent heat inleak

Because liquid hydrogen must maintain its extremely low temperature of -252.9 °C (the boiling point), the entire design of a hydrogen tank is set up to prevent heat inleak. This applies to the shape as well as to the hydrogen storage materials and insulation.

Storage tanks for hydrogen are usually spherical, as opposed to the cylindrical tanks used for many other cryogenic gases. The spherical shape allows for minimal interaction between the tank and the outside world. And less interaction means less chance of heat inleak.

In addition, the tanks are equipped with the very best insulation for liquid hydrogen: vacuum insulation.

Vacuum insulation

Vacuum insulation has proven to be the ideal method to keep cryogenic liquids perfectly at their temperature. This is essential, especially with extremely cold substances, such as liquid hydrogen with a temperature of -252.9 °C.

Vacuum insulation consists of two walls, with a layer of high-vacuum in between. This high-vacuum provides an extremely high insulation value, while the double-wall can act as a double-containment. Should the inner wall develop a leak, there is always the extra wall to contain the leak.

Vacuum insulation is not only used for the storage tanks but also for the transfer lines that are connected to them. In this way, the liquid hydrogen is optimally protected, from the tank to the application and even in the transport vehicle.

Demaco is an expert in the field of hydrogen infrastructures and vacuum insulation. Our experts provide turnkey solutions for hydrogen projects all over the world. These could include vacuum insulated transfer lines, filling stations or loading bays for trucks, vacuum insulated loading arms for ships, hydrogen purifiers, and much more.

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Do you want to know more?

Want to know more about developing the best cryogenic infrastructures for liquid hydrogen? Interested in our vacuum insulated solutions? For more information about our work, check out our products and services. And for more information on liquid hydrogen, please have a look at our liquid hydrogen page.

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