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Engineering Challenges in the Hydrogen Economy 2023...Roundtable interview with six of our conference speakers

Institution News Team

Engineering Challenges in the Hydrogen Economy 2023, 14-15 March, London
Engineering Challenges in the Hydrogen Economy 2023, 14-15 March, London

Ahead of our Engineering Challenges in the Hydrogen Economy 2023 conference, we caught up with six of the event's speakers as they discuss their roles and involvement with regards to the conference, industry challenges and why it is important for engineers to attend.

Q: Please could you briefly explain your role, involvement, and experience with regards to the hydrogen economy and this conference?

Rushab Shah, Ricardo (RS): I drive the development roadmap for Ricardo's digital capability, and with it, how we can push the boundaries of engineering throughout the use of data and digital methodologies. With a keen focus on how data can drive actionable insights to make the right strategic decisions, develop efficient solutions and leveraging connectivity to optimise real world impact on cost and carbon. By bringing a digital lens to the table, I bring tools and approaches to support the decision-making challenges associated with complex transitions within the heavy-duty sector to adopt hydrogen in the journey to net zero.

Daniel Fung, Advanced Propulsion Centre UK (DF): The road transport sector is the largest contributor to UK green house gas emissions, contributing almost a quarter of the UK’s CO2 emissions (2020) and we have an imperative to look at any practicable and economically viable solution to decarbonise. Hydrogen provides a compelling solution to some vehicle user cases and I have been involved in supporting the development of hydrogen technologies through APC funding, including fuel cells and hydrogen combustion.

Tristan Davenne, Science and Technology Facilities Council (TD): My role involves leading a group of engineers working on R&D projects focused on energy and net zero. Working in the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s Energy Research Unit we are involved in projects from fundamental concept development through feasibility studies to technology demonstrators.  My relevant experience is on the generation and use of green ammonia as a hydrogen containing energy vector.

Camilla Evangelisti, Bertrandt Germany (CE): In my role as Lead Engineer at Bertrandt I’m in charge of following the new trends in the German automotive and heavy truck industry. I worked as an experienced chemist for component development research and currently I’m using my scientific background in the industry field. At this conference I can present Bertrandt’s overview about the European and German sector and our planned role in it.

Celia Greaves, UK Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association (CG): As founder and CEO of the UK HFCA, I’ve seen the sector develop and grow to where we are today, with hydrogen at the forefront of our energy transition. I’ve worked with the members of the UK Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association to stimulate and foster this growth.

Alex Lattimer, Flexitallic (AL): My role within Flexitallic is the New Energy Business Development Director. I lead a team dedicated to developing opportunities in new energy technologies and hydrogen, supporting customers with their requirements around sealing and joint integrity as they navigate this rapidly developing sector. My experience with hydrogen started with our more established, traditional business sectors that use hydrogen in industrial processes including oil refining and nitrogen fertiliser production. More recently I have been leading the industrialisation and roll out of sealing materials for high temperature fuel cell and electrolysis systems. This growth has been predominantly focussed on solid oxide stacks but also molten carbonate systems. As a member of the IMechE I take a keen interest in the engineering challenges around hydrogen as often conferences and events overlook the practical aspects in favour of the broader topics which whilst interesting lack the real-world information so valuable to engineers.

Q: What, in your experience, has been the biggest roadblock for utilising hydrogen in your sector?

RS: The biggest roadblock in utilising hydrogen for the heavy-duty sector is the long product lifecycles and associated cost of these vehicles. These vehicles are significant capital investments with high operational costs along with high utilisation. Swapping these to new vehicles is incredibly expensive and retrofitting them removes them from service for a significant amount of time. Although hydrogen is very well suited to these applications, the infrastructure and associated operations must also be overhauled to cater for the new fuel. So, unless there is a strong financial incentive and business case to decarbonise, it is going to be a continuous roadblock to deploy hydrogen as the main fuel source.

DF: There is a lack of readily available and affordable vehicles and refuelling infrastructure to support the transition to hydrogen transport. Production of hydrogen is relatively expensive compared to diesel and gasoline alternatives, combined with a lack of capacity reduces its usability. There is also a desire to move towards green hydrogen, fleets aiming to trial hydrogen also want to avoid steam reformed methane sourced, grey hydrogen.

TD: The cost and complexity of hydrogen storage has been and remains an issue for the production of green ammonia. The cost, reliability and availability of electrolysers has also been an issue for small scale demonstration of green ammonia production.

CE: In my sector the are many roadblocks, but the most important are the missing hydrogen infrastructure (gas stations) and the elevated cost of the fuel cells.

AL: I am involved with a wide range of industries in different sectors globally which gives me a somewhat unique perspective. I think the biggest roadblock for hydrogen is the pace of development required to deploy the predicted capacity of green and blue hydrogen coupled with the challenge of simultaneously developing the demand for hydrogen.

Q: What key topics are you excited to discuss at this year's conference?

RS: I am really looking forward to getting in the room with a breadth of individuals and sectors that are pioneering hydrogen. Discussing innovative strategies for developing and deploying hydrogen economies and how industries have come together to invest in infrastructure, vehicles and adapted their operational strategy to manage this transition.

DF: I’m looking forward to sharing the progress the UK has made towards developing technologies for hydrogen fuelled vehicles. There is a great opportunity for the UK to capitalise on the changing technologies required as we commit to net zero. We’ve recently funded projects that help position the UK on the world stage as a place to come do business to develop hydrogen technologies, and I’d like to share what we can about these.

TD: I am excited to discuss which applications are most likely to adopt green hydrogen and those applications where it may make more sense to convert hydrogen to ammonia.

CE: The talks about hydrogen in aviation and heavy duty in UK are for me of big interest.

CG: I’m looking forward to reflecting on the topics discussed throughout the previous two days. Whilst we have made great progress on the hydrogen journey, there remains much still to do, including in engineering.

AL: I am most excited to discuss how sealing and gasket technology is developing and the requirements the sector has for new products and services.

Q: Regarding the utilisation of hydrogen, what would you say are the technologies or applications to watch for the future?

RS: Anything that is circular or combines different energy sources! Solutions that have dual impact like trapping the methane gas from agricultural or food waste and converting that to provide hydrogen fuel to local economies.

DF: The best opportunities are in cases where practicalities don’t allow for battery electric vehicles to perform. These can include the edge cases of operation where fuel needs to be transported to farms and remote or moving construction sites. It will also be an energy vector for heavy-duty long-distance travel where megawatt charging infrastructure has not yet been set up and cannot be relied upon. We've already seen how H2 solutions can be used in off-grid and hard to decarbonise sectors, but there are exciting new innovations coming through - such as in the projects we are funding - to put H2 tech into every-day on road fleets of HGVs, buses and heavier cars like the Toyota Hilux or Land Rover Defender.

TD: I believe that hydrogen will become a widely used energy storage vector facilitating large expansion in installed intermittent renewable energy. It will be used as a carbon free fuel that can be generated when there is excess renewable energy. In the future large scale storage of hydrogen is likely to be as a compressed gas in salt caverns or as a constituent part of ammonia within liquid ammonia tanks. Future applications are likely to include the use of hydrogen as a fuel in large road vehicles and industrial vehicles. Hydrogen and or ammonia is likely to play a role in fuelling non-electrified rail and ammonia is set to replace hydrocarbons for long distance international shipping. Hydrogen and ammonia will surely play a role as a replacement fuel for power stations that currently run on natural gas thus providing resilience and a solution to periods where renewable energy generation is lower than demand.

CE: One big challenge is the effective transport of hydrogen with different carrier materials. Liquid organic hydrogen carriers or solid-state storage seem to be very promising methods.

CG: It’s been hugely encouraging to see the recognition of the role of hydrogen to decarbonise across power and heat, and the full range of transport modes. Looking ahead, one of the success factors will be ensuring that we link this diversity of applications and ensure that we have mechanisms in place to transfer learning and build on success.

AL: I think that the key technologies or applications to watch out for those that are the most flexible and can be easily integrated into different products or systems. Solid oxide systems are interesting because they can produce high quality heat which can be used in other processes and are fuel flexible meaning they can be readily used during the transition from natural gas to hydrogen without needed to be reconfigured. The potential for reversible systems that combine fuel cell and electrolysis in a single unit also has potential.

Q: Who else are you most interested in hearing from on the programme?

RS: I am looking forward to hearing how energy companies such as EDF are driving a joint up approach throughout the value chain along with how utilisation of hydrogen heavy duty vehicles is impacted by the cost and supply of hydrogen. This is particularly of relevance because at Ricardo, we do a lot of work engineering and testing multi-stack fuel cell systems and combustion engines. Although we have a significant demand, we see H2 supply challenges inhibiting progress and development of new solutions coming online.

DF: It looks like a packed agenda with a fantastic set of speakers. I’m really interested in hearing from Chris O’Connor regarding the hydrogen production cost optimisation, from Ken Scott about how Tevva are aiming towards dual energy sources for their trucks, and about the role of hydrogen in aviation from Hervé Morvan.

TD: I am particularly interested in the section on hydrogen utilisation in power generation, the talks on hydrogen and ammonia for the marine sector and the talks on improving the efficiency of hydrogen production, in particular the talk on challenges with PEM electrolysis and the case for solid oxide electrolysers.

CE: Hydrogen in marine and shipping at the moment is not big in focus in the EU. I’m looking forward to hearing more about its development in the UK.

AL: The event as a whole looks fantastic, I’m looking forward to Martyn Tulloch’s presentation on the opportunities in the North Sea and also the sessions on pressure vessel testing (Ryan Marks) and integrity of repurposed natural gas pipelines for use with hydrogen (Stephen Livermore).

Q: Why is it important for engineers to join this conference?

RS: Hydrogen will be a part of that future world and we need as many engineers engaged and collaborating across sectors to make this a reality. It’s not a matter of when, but a matter of how. We are seeing a shift in increase in financing available for hydrogen programs along with significant momentum in small pockets. The only way we can drive true change is by bringing engineers together in conferences such as these to share, ideate and spark innovative ideas that will change the world.

DF: There are many voices in the hydrogen debate, often with much enthusiasm for or against the technology. My view is that hydrogen will be an important part of the future technology landscape and we need to have a strong rational voice in the debate, as we’ll be the ones who have to implement the solutions.

TD: This is important for engineers in the power generation and transportation sectors who are concerned with how we will reach net zero. It will be a chance to refresh understanding of the main technical challenges and opportunities in using hydrogen and to see the progress that is being made.

CE: The attendance at the conference is a big opportunity to show to the other participants the development of their own companies' strategies in the hydrogen sector. It is an excellent opportunity to exchange ideas onsite and discuss with other participants.

CG: Engineers are key to the future growth of this industry.

AL: Often conferences in the hydrogen space often focus on the policy and financing, which whilst important, don’t offer a lot of practical information. Joining this conference will provide engineers with valuable, practical, and thought-provoking information which will be beneficial as they navigate the energy transition. It is also an opportunity to network with a wide range of individuals across the engineering spectrum.

The Engineering Challenges in the Hydrogen Economy 2023 conference will be taking place on 14-15 March 2023 in London.

Join this conference to:

  • Hear case studies from mature projects addressing infrastructure challenges for production, storage and distribution
  • Identify bottlenecks and barriers in moving to a hydrogen economy
  • Develop your understanding of the utilisation across different engineering sectors including rail, heavy-duty, aerospace, power generation, marine and more
  • Hear from leading experts in the field and explore opportunities to collaborate on new projects
  • Gain insight into gaps in the market and requirements for new technology
  • Take away lessons learned from other innovative companies to ensure optimal development strategies
  • Understand how your existing equipment or products can be deployed in the new hydrogen economy

To book your place, please visit the event website.


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